Anything new?

The page on the calendar has been turned to reveal a new month and a whole new year. In the northern hemisphere, winter has begun, and New Year’s Day dumped a bunch of snow on my location.  Everywhere you turn there is talk of newness: resolutions or intentions, new leadership, new projects, and new hope in alleviating the oppressive confinement, death and struggle of the pandemic.  When you live with chronic conditions and disability, it can be difficult to imagine anything new.  The pandemic has forced many people into the routine people with disabilities have known for eons.  There is a sameness to the days; an isolation to the lack of going out when transportation and mobility are challenges; a longing for some shift in the routine.  While the vaccine offers hope to some to return to the days of wandering outside our homes, for others the vaccine is unlikely to change the routine of the days. So, for you, is there anything new right happening in 2021?

I am reminded of the story in John 5 of Jesus telling a man languishing by the pool of healing to take up his mat.  “One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well. . .” (John 5: 5-9  NRSV)  There are several key points in this for my contemplation of something new in 2021. 

First, when Jesus asked if the man wanted to be made well, instead of saying, “Yes!  Heck Yes!”, the man offered excuses for how he had not been able to get to the healing pool.  How often do I profess to want something and then spend a really lot of time making excuses for how it’s not going to happen?  It is an easy trap to fall into, especially with conditions not conducive to change.  I want to exercise more but…I can’t find a heated pool with sloped entry…it’s cold and messy out…the weather makes my joints hurt more…there’s nowhere to go for a walk…  See how easy it is to list excuses and allow the thing I profess to want to not happen.  Because I have an excuse. 

The next key in the story, however, is what I like to call grace.  Grace is not earned or measured. Grace here is the idea that the Universe doesn’t care about your excuses or even that you have been stuck in excuses for quite a while (like 38 years).  Jesus spoke a healing command anyway.  Knowing what is in our heart, even if our mind is still making excuses, if our soul is ready, change is going to happen.  “At once the man was made well.”  How was the man made well?  Was it something outside the man (Jesus, as an outer agent) or something within the man that responded to the command?  I rely on a metaphysical interpretation of the Bible that goes beyond the literal words.  For me, Jesus is an example of what is possible, (the things I do you can do also, and more John 14:12). For me, Jesus speaks as the universal and eternal Christ or I AM of my being. For me, it is the Radical Wholeness within me which responds to the idea of taking up my own mat and changing my outer existence.  Radical Wholeness is the inner essence of us, always present, always whole, limited only by the way we access it or ignore it.  Waiting by the pool represents our tendency to believe in limitation, ignore our Radical Wholeness and wait for someone or something in the outer conditions to help us, to lift us up, to make a change before we can do anything.  The call to change is to act!  Stand! Take up your mat!  Beyond the literal meaning of standing and walking, Radical Wholeness can express through any action we take on our own. There is no need to leap from a wheelchair, run a marathon, be able to hear or to see. There is no requirement to suddenly become able to become capable of taking personal action to change our lives.  The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is a book written by a man blinking his eyes.

The pandemic will not end tomorrow.  Chronic conditions may not go away; physical disabilities may endure.  The real question is whether, or not, you are ready to create something new anyway?  Is there anything, tiny or big, that you can do differently in 2021 that will make a change in your life?  Or will you be content to offer another year of excuses for why nothing will change and leave the Radical Wholeness within you untapped? It is entirely up to you! 

Image description: snow on a white rail with a dark green bush and snowy pine tree in the background

It’s a new year. Will you be content with excuses or will you make a change?

Radical Wholeness and Gratitude

It is that season in the United States, whether you are spiritual or not, when everyone is encouraged to make a list of what we are grateful for.  Some call it a list of your blessings.  Thanksgiving becomes a test, sometimes, of whether or not we can see enough good in our lives to become content and appreciative of what we have. Here is the tricky part that has happened in my experience; if I can look within and see myself as whole, complete and part of the divine Allness, then everything I see in my life becomes a part of that wholeness.  If, however, I look within and see myself as broken and lacking, then all I can see is the lack in my life.  At that point, my list of what I am grateful for only has an entry on every other line with gaps in between which my mind fills in with the things I don’t have that I imagine would make me happy—things I’d have if I were truly whole and complete.  This is what we’ve learned, often in family, in the media, in our social circles:  that there are specific things on the checklist which are required to really be happy and successful.  If something is missing or lacking in this physical journey we call life, we are not whole.  Grateful becomes a superficial attitude and platitude.

Over the years, being able to experience gratitude as a spiritual sense of wholeness within me first, even for just brief windows of time, has allowed me to use that experience to guide me when I am seeing myself as broken and lacking.  Knowing the wholeness truly does exist within me, the blessing list becomes pieces I am picking up to recreate the whole—pieces I use to reconnect with my inner sense of wholeness.  It becomes easier to gather a few pieces, one grateful blessing at a time, until there is that sigh of my soul that says, “Ah, there it is!  Wholeness! Everything I am, everything I see, every thing I possess is a part of my wholeness and I am whole within a Universal wholeness.” That transition may be easier if I begin looking at nature, or it may be easier if I begin looking at the smallest, simplest things. Whatever my mood is, I do not believe there is a specific list of how wholeness manifests and that is the radical part of the concept of Radical Wholeness.  I am whole without being tall, without being partnered, without being employed, without being perfectly mobile, and without being completely pain free. Those aren’t gaps, they simply are not part of the wholeness I AM right now! I feel gratitude centered in my wholeness. I experience gratitude as a deep, sincere contentment.

The pandemic, quarantining, economic upheaval, social unrest and a bit of chaos in every corner of the world has many of us hesitant to begin a list of gratitude this year.  Our mind is too focused on what is missing.  We see ourselves and our world as broken and lacking. We are not broken and we are not lacking.  We are whole and complete within, even if there are temporary conditions outside us or in our bodies trying to convince us we are not whole and we are not complete.  Try centering yourself, breathing into a sense of yourself as whole within a larger whole, before you begin a list of blessings.  Knowing your wholeness allows you to see that wholeness present all around you.  I am grateful for Radical Wholeness and the opportunity to see it in each of you.   

Image description: an ivory pitcher with a silk arrangement of orange, russet and green leaves and flowers with a dark green framed picture of a field mouse gathering grain propped against the pitcher.

Begin within

Denial, Pride, Truth

If there are places in this blog that you think I sound angry, I am not.  I am impatient for the awakening among all of us of the commonality of our struggles and our divinity.  If there are places in this blog that you think I am too blunt, I cannot apologize for my approach to challenges.  There are no names so I am not calling anyone out or trying to attack anyone.  This is just me wrestling with an issue in an open dialog.

I have dwarfism.  It was dwarfism awareness month in October and I am fully aware, as many of you are, I have dwarfism.  I have a disability.  Dwarfism and disability are two words people seem to be uncomfortable saying.  Instead of saying these two words people say what feel to them to be softer, gentler words they are more comfortable with: little person, vertically challenged, height impaired, differently abled.  I suspect part of the discomfort is a well-intention-ed avoidance of offending me (or anyone these words are directed to) and part of the discomfort is acknowledging that these words are part of a package deal.  Avoiding the word is a way of denying that the rest of the package deal is real.  Marginalized and oppressed groups are familiar with the package deal and those with privilege are becoming familiar with the depth of denial we will burrow into. Marginalized and oppressed people are becoming aware of the degree to which we have internalized the messages we receive and the denial within ourselves. 

The package deal for me involves the bias associated with the words dwarfism and disability; a history of institutionalization and denial of education; the social isolation of difference; the inconvenience of functioning in an environment not built to support you; the constant proving yourself worthy to sit at the table with the privileged; and the strain on family relationships when you are the only one disabled.  Please understand, I am still working on my own denial. For years I avoided the word disability because I wanted to deny the reality of the package deal.  I kept hoping that even if I was short, I wouldn’t be judged on sight; my accomplishments could speak for themselves without me proving myself over and over; I’d be accepted in social relationships; I wouldn’t be the only one different in my family.  Dwarfism is a medical diagnosis.  I can live with that. I am over denying disability because it simply is the reality I live in. Denying does not minimize any of the package deal. For privileged folks, denying the reality of the package deal means no one is responsible for changing the reality.  No one has to acknowledge the inequities, bias and damage being done to other human beings.

When we get over denial, sometimes we move to pride.  Not every one does.  Not everyone gets over denial and not everyone moves to pride.  I do now.  I began to distinguish between how the world viewed me and how I viewed myself.  If the world chooses to judge me as less than, broken or flawed, I could see myself differently.  My Dad would not listen to talk of institutionalization. Although no one counseled me, the salutatorian, on college, I found it on my own. No one thought I’d succeed in law, but I persevered. If the world chooses to create physical and social barriers, I can see them as obstacles but not defining limits on my potential.  Whether the world sees me as worthy or not, I can claim my own worthiness. Every family has complicated dynamics; being the only one different in my family of origin is just my dynamic.  As a parent, I created a family of origin in which my children saw everyone in our house had dwarfism and we still have challenging dynamics. 

I have dwarfism.  I have a disability.  To avoid these words may make you more comfortable but it also ignores a block of my life experience.  You are saying you are more comfortable not looking at the challenges and the struggles I contend with daily. You are saying no one has to change the way society and government and religion looks at, interacts with or excludes people with dwarfism and disabilities.  Honestly, although it may make you more comfortable to say “little person” or “differently abled”, it is not really a gentler way.  I was amused thinking about the LGBTQ community being “differently oriented” or BIPOC being “differently hued”.  “Differently” assumes there is a “right” way and a “different way”.  It is not a gentler label.

One of the keys for me to be able to shift from denial to pride about these labels everyone is intent on applying was an understanding that ultimately, I am more than my body, my intellect and my emotions; more than the labels placed on me; and more than my struggles.  The Truth is I AM a spark of the divine, clothed in this journey through a human experience in the particular body I have. I have the abilities I have.  I have the gender and sexual orientation I have.  I have the race and ethnicity I have.  There’s nothing different about me or anyone else because each of us is uniquely human and each of us is equally divine. That is the beauty of Radical Wholeness, the diverse way spiritual wholeness shows up.  I hope some day the labels we use stop coming with such a heavy package deal or maybe we stop labeling people and just label canned goods.  I hope someday denial and marginalization won’t be the primary way we deal with our differences.

Image description: walker on the threshold of home with welcome mat

Will healing erase our differences?

I encourage you to keep reading because this may not be the blog you think it is.

Let’s begin with the premise that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  Made in the image and likeness of Divine Beingness, without exception, each of us can access a perspective that sees a like being in each other.  By looking beyond our human vehicle to the essence of each of us, there we are, whole and one in spirit. The second part of our premise brings us back to our humanity and that human experience.  If our sacred beingness arises from a Divine Source, our human expression seems to arise, to some extent, from our genes.  Those DNA sequences determine eye color and hair, gender expression and a host of other characteristics.

In 1990 the human science community undertook an international project to map the entire sequence of human genes.  What showed up where?  I recall there was a fair amount of discussion of the ethics of what would happen to the information if we knew the genetics of each person. The project was completed in 2006. This year the Nobel prize in Chemistry goes to two women (a first), Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Douda for their CRISPR technology.  Simply put, CRISPR is a way to edit and alter genes.  The technology is being used in several trials to “fix” broken genes that cause lethal conditions in humans, such as sickle cell disease and SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). I’ll put a link to an article at the end if you’d like more scientific information. 

If healing is a return to wholeness and we’ve discovered a way to fix broken genes and make them whole, what could be the problem?  How could anyone be against healing?  Let me be clear, Radical Wholeness is not against healing.  From Buddhists to Christians to Pagans, most of us would like to eliminate pain and suffering.  Even if you consider it a part of our human experience, it is the part we would most like to skip. One of the most frequent healing desires is to reduce or eliminate pain and suffering. Healing keeps bringing us back to what does wholeness look like?

No one tends to think wholeness looks like genetic disability unless you are a person who has lived into a disability identity.  And not everyone with a genetic disability adopts a positive disability identity.  Many people spend their whole lives wishing to be something different; something without the inconvenience and limitation of their disability; something without the physical, psychological and emotional pain; something with more ability and more social acceptance.  So, what do we do with the emerging technology to allow these people to heal and return to their vision of wholeness?  Who decides what is whole and when is the decision made and who decides how to use the technology?  These ethical issues not being talked about put us on the slippery slope of a concept that is not new but takes on new life in this brave new world: Eugenics. 

Eugenics was popular in the United States in the 1900’s.  If you aren’t familiar with the word, here is an online definition: “the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable. Developed largely by Sir Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, eugenics was increasingly discredited as unscientific and racially biased during the 20th century, especially after the adoption of its doctrines by the Nazis in order to justify their treatment of Jews, disabled people, and other minority groups.” Now the Nazis got in trouble because their manipulation of reproduction was to simply eliminate people.  In the United States, the more benign version of eugenics was to involuntarily sterilize individuals with undesirable characteristics. In 1927, the Supreme Court sanctioned involuntary sterilization with a majority decision (written by Oliver Wendell Holmes) in Buck vs Bell that reads in part, “It is better for the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.” Lest you think this is ancient history, we might note that the last legally forced sterilization occurred in 1981 in Oregon.  Enforcement became state by state with a cascade of repeals in more recent years but the Supreme Court decision has never been overtly overturned. Let that sink in.

Who makes the decisions in Eugenics?  It is NOT the individual!  It is parents, medical people and social bias who establish who is fit to reproduce.  So let’s apply this movement to the CRISPR technology.  Many genetic conditions have established patterns of inheritance going forward but first appear in families through an unpredictable occurrence of “spontaneous mutation” of the gene.  Parents want the best for their children so most of the decisions will fall to individuals who have no experience of the difference being eliminated or genetically engineered out.  In communities with a disability identity, like the deaf or dwarf community, we could also feasibly see disabled parents denied the ability to refuse genetic engineering to heal their child into the wholeness viewed by others.  The views of disabled parents are often discounted or ignored. Since disability is so obviously not wholeness in society’s general view, let’s consider LGBTQ. Let’s assume science discovers genetic components to gender identity and sexual orientation, which can then be genetically engineered away. Would a parent choose to have their child LGBTQ or would they choose to heal the child?  Of course, we still have the issue of race.  Nazis gave Eugenics a bad name with their extreme behavior yet one of the issues facing our nation today remains the belief (by maybe more than we estimate) in a master race.  What if a single master race was a physical possibility?  Would we eliminate the differences in our human expression if we could?  Would that really be healing? 

This seems like science fiction.  I am guessing most of you think I have just gone too far. I really intend this to be a cautionary note to generate conversation.  My concern is being too far down the slippery slope before we discern the need to make a course correction that is then out of reach.

What are the consequences if we shift our focus in the disability community from accommodation and acceptance to elimination of genetic conditions? With increasing economic disparity, who has access to the technology and what happens to those who do not have access?   What happens to those with acquired or non-genetic disabilities? Can we trust our social and governmental structures to be able to engage in ethical discussions and decision making?  Our history is not great on that.  Look at discussions and criteria right now being used in algorithms for distribution of limited ventilators if the need arises.  Look at the somewhat cavalier attitude from our nation’s leader about the ravages of COVID, based on the highest incidence being elderly, minorities and those with disabilities. Many continue to consider these acceptable losses in the interest of the economy. 

I know this is long and I appreciate those who read to the end.  For me, spirituality is not useful if it is not applied to daily living.  With power comes responsibility.  I am challenged to contemplate both my access to a spiritual wholeness and how to use that access for the highest and best.  If I see myself as part of a greater whole, what is the highest for our wholeness?  If humanity was designed for diversity, as indicated by our genetics, is it our destiny to eliminate that diversity, substituting human will for divine design? Or was diversity manifesting a human flaw and not divine design? Is Oneness sameness?  What exactly is healing and what does spiritual wholeness look like in human expression? I invite you to examine your own beliefs and stay aware of where humanity is heading.

Resources: Nobel Prize     https://www.quantamagazine.org/2020-nobel-prize-in-chemistry-awarded-for-crispr-to-charpentier-and-doudna-20201007/

Image description: image of blue microscopic dna strands on black background

Is Radical Wholeness Relevant?

When you begin a new thing, you really have no idea the direction it will take.  Whether it is a new relationship or job or writing adventure, life happens. It’s been over a year since Unity Magazine published my article titled “Radical Wholeness”.  The intention, at the time, was to challenge my own faith tradition’s theological approach to healing, specifically as it relates to those with disabilities and the language used by some of our most revered writers.  My aim was to nudge ministers and spiritual leaders into examining their own theology and language around healing and disability and also, to provide a safe space for those with disabilities to access Unity’s empowering messages.  I was excited about the possibilities.  I got a couple encouraging responses from individuals with disabilities about a need for this.  I got very little response from ministers. Undaunted, I began a blog.  I was doing full time ministry so I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to write but I pushed on.  The blog was linked to a Facebook page, where I also featured articles about individuals with disabilities and their accomplishments and perspectives.  The Facebook page is a place to gain access to the perspectives of people who identify as disabled and just don’t give that word the negative connotation we have become indoctrinated with. Just as I was getting ready to retire and find more time, the pandemic hit.  Ministry was overwhelming.  Then came the deaths of Ahmaud Arbrey and George Floyd and the focus in the arenas of oppression were focused on Black Lives Matter.  Not arguing the appropriateness of that focus and our need for changes to eliminate systemic racism.  Just more life happening. And certainly there is inter-sectionality between Black lives, People Of Color (POC) and Disability.

It’s the end of September and Radical Wholeness is more than a year old.  I’m not sure ministers and spiritual leaders feel compelled to examine their beliefs around disability because honestly, who wants to think they have limiting beliefs around groups of people when they claim to be spiritual leaders?  Right now, many who are not Black are overwhelmed by confronting their complicity in systemic racism.  The reach of Racial Wholeness to people with disabilities does not seem to be very broad yet.  Honestly, I am finding our teachings haven’t always felt welcoming to people with disabilities so we don’t have as many individuals identifying with disabilities in those who follow Unity messages.  I have also found, in other disability forums, people with disabilities have become so accustomed to “making do” with a world not designed for them, they often don’t confront or examine the ways their faith traditions discount them or exclude them.  Although I have come to rely on spiritual practice to sustain me in social justice work, I understand those who feel differently. And we all use those parts of a spiritual practice that work for us and discard the rest, without a lot of reflection or searching for a different path.  I am not saying that is invalid as a spiritual practice.  It is just a new nuance in finding Radical Wholeness’ audience.

While I have been disappointed in the response of what I thought were my target audiences, a surprise audience has surfaced.  The core of Radical Wholeness is the idea that each one of us is whole and complete in our spiritual nature, our spiritual or higher self, AND the idea that there is not a singular and superior way our spiritual nature out-pictures in our humanity. 

Initially, this was presented as humans who were blind or deaf or dwarf were just as valid a picture of spiritual wholeness as humans who were tall and able-bodied. The surprise was that many people who do not identify with disabilities do see their humanity as broken and less than whole.  They resonated with the idea that what they viewed as their brokenness did not disqualify them from being an expression of spiritual wholeness. Or maybe it was a rebellion against being judged as broken and having internalized that message.  Still, people who did not identify with disabilities liked the Radical Wholeness message.  They liked exploring there is not a singular destination for healing and others should not presume to know the healing needed or taking place in any of us. I have some indication they hear the message of Radical Wholeness as relevant to their lives.

So I will keep writing for Radical Wholeness.  I truly hope you will share the posts and maybe what you like about Radical Wholeness.  Whether it challenges you to examine beliefs; whether it reveals your own wholeness and inspires you to live into your potential, no matter what limitations appear in the physical world; whether it connects you to others you did not see a commonality with—whatever draws you into this world of Radical Wholeness, WELCOME!  We are all so magnificent and we all have ways we under-value ourselves. Perhaps the only healing we all seek is to know our divinity and claim that divine expression as who we are right this moment.  Whatever we have come to believe or are still being told about our “differences” and the ways we do not fit the “average” mold, that misinformation has nothing to do with the possibilities available for us to live into.  May we all find the truth of Radical Wholeness is relevant to our lives. 

Photo caption: A silver pig with wings reflected in a silver edged mirror

Radical Wholeness is the divine inheritance of us all!
I am a whole and complete expression of Divine Life

What’s in the backseat?

For months now, everything in my life has taken a backseat to one thing.  We like to think our lives are driven by a sense of purpose, by a pursuit of our passion or manifesting our dreams.  Yet from time to time none of those things are driving our lives—it is something different and usually, hopefully, temporary.  You might guess my driver has been COVID 19 or even Black Lives Matter but you would be wrong.  For months everything has been driven by THE MOVE.  COVID 19 has been experienced in the context of how it affected THE MOVE (and it did in many ways).  As a social justice advocate, I’ve tried to eek out moments for Black Lives Matter self-education, reflection and advocacy around the time consumed by THE MOVE. 

Just to be clear, THE MOVE wasn’t even just a single faceted issue. In a lapse of planning or thinking things through, I moved out of church ministry after 11 years; which required I move all my books and things out of my church office; while implementing moving my insurance to Medicare; while moving my income to Social Security and retirement; while finding an apartment and moving my residence across the country IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC.  Yes, the capitalization is for emphasis.  Because honestly, I am yelling in my head!  As if the chaos in the outer world beyond my doorstep weren’t enough, I have dumped my life out on the floor, tried to sort through it and gather it back up in some new order.  That process is not going as smoothly as you might hope.  Still, it is going.

It is a bit ironic that this beginning of September happens to be the fourth anniversary of another time in my life when something unusual was the driver. In 2016, from January to September and then some, healing was the only focus I had.  I managed to keep working to pay the bills but otherwise, I let go of everything that wasn’t strictly related to my health and healing.  In some ways, I am still putting things back in order from that journey.  I learned new priorities and the importance of self-care on that healing path.  I am curious exactly what I will keep from THE MOVE experience.  I’m not sure I can really discern what I’m learning, yet I can feel a shift happening. 

But at some point, we take back conscious control of driving our lives and look at what is in the backseat.  I look back there and notice the priorities I cherish when I allow them to direct my daily activities. I notice I’ve not spent much time pursuing my passion (like writing about the intersectionality of spirituality and disability or the way BLM impacts that intersectionality) or manifesting my dreams (like making Radical Wholeness a vibrant ministry online).  I become aware of how the details and minutia of THE MOVE have made self-care secondary to the list of things to do.  So today I put writing for Radical Wholeness on the list of things to do. I made self-care and passion a priority. It feels good.  It’s not that I didn’t have other stuff to do, I consciously took back control, choosing my life activities in alignment with my passion. 

Sometimes I feel like taking control of my life activities is not a choice but I know it always is.  I wake up to my power. I decide it is time to stop sleepwalking through life. I invite you to touch that innate wholeness within you and draw strength and courage from it. Just take a moment to breathe. If you feel that something other than conscious choice has been driving your life lately, look and see what is in the backseat.  Give yourself space to explore what activity you might engage in if purpose and passion and creativity were priorities in your activities today.  Then DO THAT activity!  See, I’m yelling again.  It’s important.  If pain or healing or work or grief or survival seems to have been driving your activities, draw strength from your wholeness, still untouched and undiminished by outer conditions, and choose a simple action.  For me, even the smallest action aligned with purpose, passion and creativity affirms my innate divinity and renews my faith in wholeness as my true nature. 

What's driving your life choices and what's been left in the back seat?
Image description: narrow view of the rear window of a car, a cream colored straw fedora with black and white patterned band on the ledge and the gray, rear headrests of the back seat showing.

Wholeness and Race

Life has occupied my time and my blog has been neglected.  In January I was burning to write a blog: I Am Not A Burden.  I had announced my pending retirement from full-time church ministry.  There wasn’t really time for blogging.  Then the pandemic hit.  It laid bare the ugliness of able-ism and I Am Not A Burden seemed even more important, but now I was doing church, fully online and pretty much alone. I couldn’t take on more.  Then the week before my final service, an unarmed black man named George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer.  Black lives matter. Wholeness has to address the whole person.

Radical Wholeness stands for the idea that as spiritual beings in a human body experience, our divinity expresses perfectly in each physical expression.  It doesn’t matter how the outside world judges our human form; we are an expression of spiritual wholeness.  In theory, a lot of people agree with me.  In practice we get a different story.  In theory, it should be easy to be ourselves.  Our humanity comes with a cadre of characteristics including skin color, hair texture, sexuality, gender identification, physical and mental capacities, size, shape and then there is our quirky personalities. Infants come into the world ready to just be!  As long as we feed them, change them, and love them, they can tackle the world. The difficult part of being me is being me with the endless noise of a world telling me what is wrong with being me and the me I really should be aiming for.  Most of us end up not embracing parts of our humanity based on the advice from the world around us.  Whether the advice comes from parents, teachers, peers, media—doesn’t matter.  We decide we are too—small, large, loud, shy, dumb, smart, gay, macho, girly—and we make ourselves try to fit in.  For some of us, that is impossible.  We end up disowning and disliking parts of ourselves and frankly, that separation is supported by media and often church.  We also are conditioned to judge how other people are doing at being themselves.  We judge the aspects of their humanity based on our conditioning.  We all have bias.  To say we don’t have bias is simply to deny the reality and blind our self-awareness.  If you want to check out your bias, Harvard Project Implicit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

I didn’t like the results I got.  I had bias I didn’t agree with.  I was working on it! I guess I wasn’t there yet.  Guess what other bias showed up?  I valued people with disabilities.  They didn’t see that every day in test results!  And it gave some credibility to the testing.  Here’s the thing about our human characteristics; if we are in a minority being oppressed, our oppressed characteristic seems to come to the forefront of our awareness.  And with that focus, comes some blinders to our privilege in other areas. Every characteristic in our humanity adds a layer to our experience.  Our personal view of the hierarchy of characteristics may try to minimize our privileged characteristics.  

I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual female, with specific disabilities of dwarfism, mild hearing loss and mobility issues. I do not know the experience of having a disability and being BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color).  I don’t know the experience of having a disability and being transgendered or being LGBTQ+.  I do understand that my experience of disability is different than that of others who have other characteristics. I understand that the way different racial groups treat disability and LGBTQ+ groups treat disability is not the same as I may experience disability.  

I first remember encountering what I came to recognize as racism when I was eight years old.  I spent ten days at a University Medical Center—having my dwarfism poked, tested and experimented with because I am different.  In those days (I like to think I’m older than I look but maybe I look that old), parents were not encouraged to visit–so mine didn’t.  I made friends with a girl my age who seemed to know a lot more about the hospital routine than I did.  We got into mischief in between tests. At the end of my incarceration (it felt like prison), I wanted to visit my new friend. I was told that was not possible.  She was black and we (my mother and step-father) didn’t go to that part of town.  Well this made no sense to me!  I like to believe I have been actively anti-racist after that.  I have spoken out against injustice.  I have taken risks with my white privilege. I have advocated for equality for race and LGBTQ+ in the spiritual, disability and dwarfism communities. We have made changes happen. And you know what?  That stupid Harvard test said I still valued whiteness.  It is something I have to be vigilant about.  I cannot deny my whiteness, my cis-gender, my heterosexuality.  I cannot pretend I have no privilege or bias just because I am oppressed based on gender or disability.

My children are POC.  They will experience a prejudice that I do not.  They have dwarfism and each of them has other disabilities I don’t.  None of us has the exact same experience and the best we can do is listen to others with empathy and act in love. 

Radical Wholeness sees the whole of our humanity and celebrates it.  Every aspect of our humanity is a different facet for the Radical Wholeness of Spirit to shine through. There is nothing in anyone’s skin color or ethnicity that diminishes the power and wholeness of the Divine within. Disability continues to be an aspect of our humanity that gains the least amount of attention and wields the least amount of political power.  Radical Wholeness will continue to be mainly about the intersection of spirituality and disability.  In this moment, however, we are all called to witness our racial bias and advocate for justice and equality.  We are all called to demand training and equipping law enforcement to serve and protect in a way that honors the humanity of all. We must all vote and be accountable for our justice system. We are called to lift up the Black voices and listen with open hearts for what is ours to do.   

Grace in connection

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” 

Maybe we’ve said this phrase.  Maybe we’ve heard this phrase as we pass by someone.  I really don’t like the phrase. 

There” is a word of spatial separation.  Toddlers learn the difference between “here” and “there”, just as they distinguish “up” from “down”.  Here is where I am and there is where I am not.  In the spirituality of connection, in the field of oneness, is separation a reality or an illusion our minds make up?  Floods and fires and natural disasters happen there, until suddenly it happens here and our perspective changes.  Honestly, we like the comfort of the distance there creates.  We create separation from things unfamiliar because we fear the experience or condition.  Fear drives us apart. 

“but for the grace of God” implies an inequitable distribution of grace by the infinitely giving Divine.  How could a field of love parcel out grace to some and withhold it from others?  I puzzle over how these decisions could be made, even in the limited human understanding speaking the words.  If you live with a disability and hear these words spoken by others as we move through life, you have to wonder why grace would be denied you and heaped upon the able-bodied person.  What event triggered this distribution decision? Was I bad or was the other person good?  What is the measure in this duality?  Don’t we all receive grace? 

Let’s go to a more basic question: What is grace?  Or more specifically, what is God’s grace?  It seems Merriam-Webster feels bold enough to venture into the religious waters of definition on this one saying grace is: “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification; a virtue coming from God or a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance” (from online dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace).  The very beginning of the definition blows the merit theory out of the water—unmerited divine assistance.  We can’t earn grace!  There is no list of good deeds that qualifies us for grace. Some authors hint that humility is a prerequisite for grace but that would be a subtle measure of merit and presumes the arrogant are exempt from grace. All of those terms depend on the duality of judgments made in the intellectual process of our humanity.

Here’s how I view grace: the elastic in the operation of divine principle that is both mysterious and universal. “Elastic”?  Elastic gives and makes more room.  Who doesn’t put on their stretchy pants when dressing for a big meal?  Sometimes it seems that I don’t reap exactly what I sow and I am grateful!  I speak the words, “This is killing me” and it doesn’t. There is mystery in spiritual principle that defies the easy exactness of the limits in human understanding.  Everyone is subject to divine principle at work and everyone receives grace. What is different is that we all have unique lives, unique needs and lessons and gifts.  So, it makes sense that grace shows up differently for each of us.  Not that some receive grace and some don’t.  Maybe some of us see grace more clearly and express gratitude more easily but I am confident we all receive grace, whatever our religious beliefs are. I don’t pretend to know how grace is activated or how it shows up in the lives of others although I remain confident it appears for everyone. In this way, we are actually connected through grace.  What if we are here in this earthly experience to learn there is more strength, more comfort and more power in connection than in separation?  Wouldn’t that be ironic?  Our human efforts to find safety and comfort in separation are all for naught. Our fear is unnecessary.

Grace is here and grace is there, for me and for you.  With my walker, I continue to make my way forward on the unique path unfolding for me.  Others race forward on limber legs and others power forward in chairs with and without motors.  Grace is equally distributed among us and no one will cross the finish line a moment before or later than it is meant to happen. 

Here goes grace, here comes grace. Grace is everywhere!

I Go Slow

I Go Slow

I’ve been slowly writing this in my head for weeks!  The limitations in my mobility are still new to me and I remain a bit self-conscious about the speed with which I traverse any given path. Given the miserable weather we’ve had, I notice I am just as slow in the pouring rain as I am in the sunshine.  I generally lack any speed or gear other than slow. I chuckle when people holding the door encourage me with, “Take your time.”  I certainly hope they don’t think this speed is me rushing! 

I realize I am self-conscious about my speed because slow is not a prized value in today’s culture.  Even personally, as a professional, single mother I prided myself on multi-tasking and disposing of tasks efficiently.  It still feels foreign to find myself calculating how many steps and trips it will take to accomplish a simple household task and trying to minimize the walking.  Occasionally it is on the tip of my tongue to suggest an outing to my daughter.  Then I stop myself.  How exactly could I balance myself to play miniature golf?  How far would I be able to hike or is there a trail that is accessible. 

As I acclimate myself to going slow, I’ve been reflecting on slow as a quality we value or discount.  Mostly, in this country, we discount slow.  Some cultures enjoy leisurely meals, while we have elevated “fast food” to new heights.  There is a lane on the highway if you want to drive slow (or even the speed limit) and you leave your lane at your own peril.  We have traded “slow cookers” for “insta-pots”.  As parents, we lament the speed with which our toddlers and teenagers dress themselves.  “Hurry up” we urge them.  Then suddenly they are leaving for life on their own and we are not in such a hurry. 

Most of us have little patience with slow.  When we label intellectual challenges as “slow learners” it is not a badge of courage for their perseverance but a disdain for their need for repetition and support.  We avoid events in which we might have to suspend our usual haste and wait with those whose disability slows their pace of ordinary activities like walking, eating or speaking. 

Slow is also a comparative term.  Slow is a measure of speed compared to the speed of something else.  Comparisons lead to fear and stifle our creativity.  In comparison, we often find ourselves lacking and then our ego mind has to strategize how to survive.  One gift of my earliest introduction to spirituality was that it was grounded in an indigenous culture with a lack of comparison.  I knew Great Spirit was in the chipmunk and the bear; in the turtle and the eagle; without one being superior to the other.  Different but not better than or worse than is not how the Western world usually does comparisons.  I learned this when I went to school. 

I wasn’t picked for teams and I couldn’t keep up at recess or on field trips. I didn’t get asked to go to dances and often wasn’t invited to parties.  The message I received was that slow and small were less than and definitely not preferred in peer groups. In a culture that measures speed in gigs and nanoseconds, slow has no value. 

Spirituality, like nature, has a different rhythm than humans dictate.  The seasons don’t hurry.  The seed takes as long as it takes to sprout.  A leaf lets go gradually, not anxious or fearful about the next phase. Awakenings arrive slowly or in flashes but there is no skill or force that can determine that.  Spirit is patient and allows us as much time as we need to learn our lessons, presenting them again and again until we master the insight.  Grace gives us the benefit of unearned blessings and spares us the fruit of our own folly without a measure of time.  Time disappears in the immersion of oneself in the silence of Oneness.  There is no slow nor fast—just being. 

For “animal medicine” or the wisdom that comes from our animal brothers and sisters I reflected on sloth and tortoise. Tortoise is more familiar and I know they are different than turtles but the medicine card I could find says turtle.  I found Tortoise symbolizes longevity, endurance, and being grounded. Tortoise is ancient and wise, never needing to rush or worry. It knows that it always has everything it needs within its shell. Sloth is a newer symbol, not originally found in this country.  Sloth symbolizes relaxation, conservation, grounded-ness, and patience. Sloth is a conservation master and uses only the needed amount of energy for any given activity.  Wow, that is exactly how I calculate my activities!  Both are grounded and patient.  What extraordinary qualities to possess in this hurry up world!

I go slow.  It is with pride and not shame or embarrassment I claim the value of this quality. 

How Life Runs Through Me

Whether we are talking about psychology or spirituality or healing or some combination, the word “broken” or “brokenness” seems to come up.  The online dictionary uses descriptions like “damaged”, “no longer in one piece”, and “no longer in working order”.  “Broken” is a word people with disabilities hear in phrases applied to them like “damaged goods” and “non-functional” and “unable to work”.  I think everyone probably considers themselves broken somewhere along the path of life.  Whether it happens with a loss of a relationship and we have a broken heart; the loss of a job and we have a broken spirit; or an injury and we have a broken leg, everyone understands the idea of being broken. And who among us has not heard and sometimes believed our brokenness arose from some bad action by ourselves in a current or previous incarnation or by our parents or ancestors.  Some call the bad actions sin, some call it erroneous thoughts and some call it karma. It is an uncomfortable interpretation found in many religious traditions. In the ninth chapter of John, the disciples question Jesus about a man’s blindness: “ ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’ ”

I have been reflecting on the idea of brokenness, staring at a web of fault lines tea stain reveals in a cup from my grandmother. Decades of tea held to the lips of women in my family are the history of this cup.  I looked at my hand holding the cup and noticed the web of lines created by my veins.  Veins and arteries (usually not visible), large and small, carry blood throughout our bodies.  Veins are the tracks of how life runs through my body.  And it occurred to me that much of what others, or even I, consider brokenness is simply how life runs through me. 

I can break a bone and it does not mean my soul, the essence of who I am is broken.  I believe every part of my humanity can be broken, not working, or flawed and there is a divine part of me that is as whole as the moment it was created in the mind of the Creator. I can be missing limbs and have my brain re-wired and need assistance with basic functions and still, within my being-ness, I am whole.  What we call broken is simply how life runs through me and according to my beliefs (which you may or may not share) how life runs through me is how God’s work is revealed in this lifetime. 

It’s easy to gather a list of things in my life I have thought of as part of my brokenness: my dwarfism, a dysfunctional family and early abuse, the death of my father as a child and the death of my child as a young parent, health challenges and depression.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the condition or event or thing was a part of how I was born or came along as I made my way through life.  As I breathe into reflecting on how each of these changes me and shapes who I am in the world and as I remember I am made with the same divine imprint as everyone else, I see the tracks of how life runs uniquely through me.  I am still whole with a Radical Wholeness that is untouched by any condition of my humanity or my human experience.  I may not work the way others believe I should or could and yet, life continues to breathe me into existence. I continue the work I perceive is mine to do in the world, including this exploration of the intersection of spirituality and disability and the radical idea of wholeness within each of us. I continue to tap into that wholeness to heal through the physical and emotional conditions which make me feel less than who I came here to be. Sometimes that healing turns out the way I imagined it would and sometimes healing leads me to an entirely new place in life.

Temple Grandin spoke in Philadelphia this year at a conference on Autism.  She was quoted as saying we need all the creativity people bring, including the different way the brain works in people labelled with autism. There are different ways of hearing and seeing and thinking and expressing and communicating and when you put them all together it creates a magnificent wholeness each one of us is a part of.  Life runs through us fitting together a million pieces that might appear broken until you have a stained glass window or a Tiffany lamp. It is a very limited view of one tiny piece that sees different as nonfunctional. Perhaps if we all gave less attention to judging brokenness in ourselves and others, we would have more time to focus on the wholeness of life working through us.  Without trying to measure success or productivity, we could appreciate the love and peace and creativity each one brings to the world as life runs through them. Perhaps we would have a new appreciation of the powerful healings unfolding around us every day. We might even glimpse healing pieces being fit together within us.

The dictionary has one more definition of broken that is a separate line: having given up all hope.  Perhaps this kind of broken is the most challenging and yet, these situations give me the most evidence for an innate Radical Wholeness waiting to be drawn upon.  Albert Einstein is attributed the quote: “Adversity introduces a man to himself”.   When the outer world seems to fail us we are forced to turn within.  There we discover resources we might have been unaware of.  We discover that essence of wholeness that can sustain us through the time of darkness, into a new version of ourselves, into a healing transformation of how we see ourselves or others.  It’s not a magic potion or spell or anything someone can give us—it is our own Radical Wholeness to discover and utilize as life runs through us. 

Do you see yourself as broken or do you see the tracks of life running through you? Perhaps more importantly, can you touch the Radical Wholeness that is within you? Do you believe the Radical Wholeness within you is doing Its spiritual work through you? Tap into your Radical Wholeness and allow divine life to run through you.

How life runs through me does not alter the Radical Wholeness within.
Photo caption: image of hand with vein lines holding a tea cup with roses