“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” This message from the angels in the gospel of Luke focuses us on perhaps the most elusive of all the elements celebrated in Advent. We have glimpses of hope, faith, love and joy but how much do we experience peace? Hanukkah is a celebration of light over darkness, and yet another battle for the Hebrew people who continue to feel the stress of conflict in the world even today. The famous tale of Silent Night and the pause in World War I portrays how fleeting peace can be on earth. Yet here it is, the Advent Sunday and week of peace. What are we to make of it? How can it inform our preparation for the holy birth?
If peace is, at its simplest, the absence of conflict, what if we turned our attention inward? There is no conflict in the spiritual realm (or heaven), so this is an issue for our human experience here on earth. What if our first order of business is not so much the conflict we create among ourselves but the conflict we create within ourselves?
Created in the image and likeness of our creator, then our essential nature is love. How much time do we spend centered in, and thinking, feeling and acting from our love nature? The most basic conflict consuming much of our time here on earth is functioning out of alignment with our true self. I want to be love in expression and I cannot feel peace when I am thinking, feeling and acting out of anger, fear, guilt, worthlessness and pain. Peace calls me back to my essential self of love. When I accept my own struggle to be love in expression and am able to see the struggle of others, I let go of anger and know that I have nothing to fear from others. When I forgive myself for times I have been less than my best, I let go of guilt, even as I seek to make things right with others. When I know myself as the creation of the Divine, I realize I am precious to the creator and my worth has nothing to do with the measures of earth. There is no greater nor lesser in the Creator’s expression. I let go of condemnation of myself. When I am in pain, physical or emotional, I know it is a temporary experience that is not my essential nature. I let go of any sense that I deserve or need to hold onto the pain.
The more I can experience peace within, the less I perceive myself in conflict with others. The more I can acknowledge the unifying nature of love, the more I seek to find a path to understanding the struggles of others and solutions that create a world that works for everyone. As there is more peace within my earthly experience, I begin to see more peace out in my worldly experience. Peace is always one of the infinite possibilities available in each moment. Today I choose peace. I claim peace on earth.
I’ve been wrestling with my feelings for days and I’m not sure I’m any closer to sorting the feelings out or finding words to express myself.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience. The oneness of our spirituality is often poorly expressed through our humanity and so issues like justice, oppression and inequities often occupy our thoughts. I, like others, have spent a fair amount of time discovering and living into my inner, spiritual wholeness. Embracing the idea that no matter how my humanity appears; no matter how the material world reacts to, judges or discounts my humanity; there is within me an eternal wholeness that cannot be diminished or destroyed.
Do you love yourself? This soulful question is hard enough for people who generally fit the ideal mold held out as leading to success in our world. Most people question their body shape, hair texture, speech, and a hundred other factors and fear they still don’t measure up. For people with disabilities (and other oppressed groups), this is an even more difficult question to answer in the face of ample evidence the world does not love me, value me nor support me being the way I am.
While I have been focused on my wholeness, it seems the material world has been focused on fixing a brokenness. Last week, the FDA, not wholly consumed with COVID, approved a BioMarin drug to treat achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Intended to enhance growth in a condition noted for short stature, it may not be the panacea you hope it is at first glance. While it may increase height, individuals will not be tall, nor will it erase features seen in the hands, face, body proportions and feet of individuals with achondroplasia. It may allow them to reach things but it may not put the treated individuals out of the reach of ridicule for how they look. There does not seem to be sufficient longitudinal evidence (either here or in Europe) to see if it will really improve long term joint pain and co-morbidities (including apnea). BioMarin’s Chief Commercial Officer projects sales of this drug will eclipse its former best seller, at $544 Million. Given an annual cost of $320,000 and the inequities inherent in our healthcare system, we know there will be disparities in how the drug is dispensed based on race and economics. BioMarin sought input on the drug, primarily from unaffected parents of children with achondroplasia. This sets up a potential dynamic similar to what happened years ago with cochlear implants in the deaf community. Deaf parents were suddenly “neglectful” or “selfish” if they saw deafness as an identity, a life worth living and declined to subject their children to the implant. Dwarf parents may now face a similar discussion if they see themselves as whole even with achondroplasia and decline the drug for their eligible children.
Of course, there are people who don’t want to be the way they are. People who don’t want to be dwarf, or deaf, or gay, or transgender or neurodivergent or different. “It would be nice to be like others,” they fantasize. “It would be nice to be out of pain and suffering. To live without fear in a world that supports who I am.” I am concerned that if we keep working to “fix” people based on the standards of oppression, we skip the work we could be doing to improve quality of life, eliminate barriers and oppressive social structures, and move to a place in consciousness of embracing all differences.
This drug is given around the age of 5-12 to children with active growth plates so decisions are driven by parents. The challenge is always unaffected parents choosing an identity or understanding an identity not their own. These children have a spiritual wholeness within them, no matter what their parents decide. Should drugs be used to eliminate elements of difference, elements of human identity that others devalue? Is the primary goal health or fitting in? What happens to the way society views those with dwarfism who aren’t helped by this drug or who can’t access the drug? Can we believe in wholeness and still seek to alter who we are? I affirmed my wholeness daily during chemotherapy. Healing, for me is what happens when I am grounded in wholeness. I guess I didn’t view my treatment with drugs as fixing something broken as much as I saw it as releasing something foreign. And maybe that is just semantics I want to promote my view. I do believe in our wholeness, we are continually seeking to be better and better human expressions of the Light we are. I will work to release judgement of those who choose the drug for their children. I will work to release judgement of those who long to be different than they are. I can’t claim any superiority around the wholeness I see within each of us. Nor do I deny that it is possible for those choosing the drug to also see wholeness and not brokenness.
Still, I wonder about what happens when we set about eliminating differences in each other—in our humanity. BioMarin has decided tall(er) is a better quality than short. We know that eugenics, as a movement even in this country, sought to eliminate any “imperfection” early on by allowing infants to die without life sustaining treatment. I was put in the back of the nursery to die in 1955 by concerned medical professionals, and Baby Doe cases in the early 80’s allowed parents and medical teams to withhold treatment until legislation protecting the rights of newborns was enacted. We also allowed involuntarily sterilizing primarily developmentally delayed adults (some states allowed this up until 1977). The medical community was a part of how this all unfolded. I was in my early twenties the first time a high school biology teacher confronted me in a workshop I was doing with a genetic counselor. The workshop was about teaching the science of genetic inheritance in humans with compassion and not viewing “conditions” as oddities. We hoped to avoid people teaching in a way that made affected individuals in the text book somehow less than human. This gentleman said, “It makes little sense to discuss how the condition might be inherited going forward when people like you shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce.” Well, there it was, out in the open. Our target audience was resistant to the message. I think I simply said no one needed a permit to have children. I’m sure I had a sarcastic ending in my head about maybe not allowing narrow-minded people to reproduce. I wonder if we have changed?
I am certainly not “anti-medicine”. I am vaccinated and booster-ed. I go to the doctor for support in the ways I can maintain this little body temple. I listen to my body. I am still thriving after years of activity and a dance with cancer. I pray everyone has access to the tools of technology and medicine which allow them to live their best lives. I do not believe my activity, my productivity, the taxes I pay, the children I had the honor to raise, nor the education I got, makes me any more valuable or better than anyone else. As this Thanksgiving approaches, I am grateful for the ability to love myself; to see the wholeness I am; to see wholeness in others; and to continue to work for an equitable and just world for all. If enough people see wholeness and equality in everyone, maybe we can redirect our creative energies in a direction to provide healthcare, education, housing, transportation, meaningful work and basic needs for all of us just as we are.
Reflections on Diversity: Awareness
October is a month of so many “Awareness” campaigns it can be overwhelming. So many of them are directly relevant to my life and touch those I love. It may be just an alignment of synchronicity: Dwarfism, Disability Employment, Infant Loss, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), Cerebral Palsy, Domestic Violence and more.
In pondering this “awareness” work, I began to wonder what was the point? What is it we hope to accomplish by providing all this information? In all the years of posting, has it made a difference? Is there ever enough information to shift the consciousness that is the source of painful experiences?
We hope that by answering questions and providing information others will finally understand a perspective they may not have experienced. In that understanding, we hope to find acceptance and support for the ongoing challenges of the particular awareness issue we address. In acceptance we hope to gain equity and not only a place but a voice at a table of privilege we may not sit at now. Perhaps we could all begin with knowing we cannot ever understand at a deep level the experiences that are not ours. Not having the same experience as others does not stop us from treating others with empathy and compassion. Make the choice to be kind, it won’t matter how many questions go unanswered. Maybe in deeper connections we actually will learn about one another in a more meaningful way.
In awareness work, I think we hope to make our difference a little less foreign. We try to point towards common ground in our humanity and try to reduce the distancing that happens among us all. We hope that answering questions will somehow quell the fear of difference. Perhaps we could begin celebrating our uniqueness. Difference does not mean “not the same as ____” where we value a characteristic and those without the characteristic are “different”. We are designed to be unique, no two exactly the same. We are all different. Breathe. Be unique and let others be uniquely who they are.
Peace within produces peace without. We are really all afraid of being judged. Awareness campaigns arise out of awareness of the ways people judge us. As much as others judge us, we internalize all that propaganda and we judge ourselves with the same criteria we fear having applied to us. It is the social order, economic hierarchy, biased “isms” we have all been taught. We internalize it and judge ourselves. Love yourself. The funny part of much of the education in awareness campaigns is we attempt to teach that which we have had to learn ourselves about ourselves and those we love. Everyone has something that is their “different”. We all know the rules about success and worth. Toss them out. Find success and worth within yourself and begin to be able to acknowledge it in others.
Today, we had planned a perfect day. Weather predictions were low humidity, a nice breeze and mild temperatures. We would start the day with a lazy breakfast in a local café. Then we would wander the sunflower fields outside Lawrence, take some pictures, and wander back home. Maybe a stop at Sonic for a cherry limeade on the way home. Books to read on the patio at home.
Then came the note last night. Bug sprayers and smoke detector checks today. Random folks invading our apartment. We stayed home to protect the fur babies. There is no schedule and we waited. The morning evaporated without a lazy café breakfast or start for the sunflower fields. When the buggers finally came and went, we opted for a drive through lunch carried to the park with Raymond in tow as a precaution for the still unexpected smoke detector checker. We had to thread our way out of the complex through the asphalt trucks that have abandoned the carefully mapped project as the paved lots slowly transition to some new black top bliss. The breeze at Shawnee Mission Park lake was delightful. Geese honked and swam at a safe distance although Raymond noted their presence with barking. He sniffed and rambled and got bites of hamburger. I came home to work on various diversity projects. It was a different kind of perfect than we had planned. Still perfect.
We have to stop expecting there is only one kind of perfect. Charlie, my luecent feathered cardinal, is a different kind of perfect. My father held me and declared me perfect and not in need of healing. I am a different kind of perfect than I’m sure he and my mom planned on but still, just perfect. In our diversity work, we must come to see all the different kinds of perfect there are without wanting to change or heal any of them. Perfect isn’t a peg shaped to fit in a hole, but a sea of infinite possibilities manifesting one by one, each uniquely shaped to fill its space in the world we are creating together.
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
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
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
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.
Life is full of opportunities. Some of them we choose, some seem thrust upon us and some might be a combination of origins. I was born with a rare form of dwarfism. On some level we can argue I chose that or my soul made that choice but it was a reality that shaped my life from day one. It feels like I came into the world with a sense of spirituality. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know some power I called God or Spirit. It didn’t come from any church I attended because I wasn’t comfortable with the ways they talked about a judging and condemning God. It may have come from my father who was a spiritual seeker in the Cherokee tradition. In 1985 I discovered a faith tradition called Unity. I can talk about how that discovery unfolded at some other point. For now, the next turning point was my ordination as a Unity minister in 2004. Now I find myself clergy in a new thought tradition that values healing and I identify as a person affected by disability. So what, exactly, is wholeness? We talk a lot about spiritual wholeness and expressing wholeness in our humanity. What does wholeness expressing in our humanity look like? I began to question how my peers in disability advocacy viewed spirituality. Were they comfortable with how their clergy talked about stories in the Bible about healing and the people asking for healing? I questioned how my tradition might avoid discussions of disability and I questioned how other traditions viewed those impacted by disability. To open a discussion within my own tradition I wrote an article for the Unity Magazine titled Radical Wholeness. Writing an article was clearly my choice and I hoped it would be an opportunity to share a new perspective. Honestly I was endeavoring to tip some spiritual cows and challenge some of the language we have taken for granted.
If you ask most people what wholeness looks like in humanity you will get a description of an able-bodied, at least average intelligence person. We can be open about gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. When you label a person “whole”, most people are not open to taking away those physical, mental and emotional characteristics we attribute to able-bodied. IF you are different than the “normative value” of size, shape and ability, then there is room for improvement. Traditionally in religion we might call that improvement healing.
Those who look to the Bible as a reference go to the verse in Genesis that declares humanity made in the “image and likeness of God”. For centuries we used that backwards to create an image of God based on humanity. Mystics have looked beyond a simple formula for humanity to perceive the image and likeness to be an essence of love, creativity and power that lies within each human being. While that essence is the same, we understand humanity to be designed with infinite variety so that no two beings are exactly the same. It occurred to me the infinite variety of human design did not fit with only one, prescribed picture of how that inner spiritual wholeness out-pictured in the body and experiences of each individual. What if the wholeness within could be expressed in persons lacking vision, missing a limb, unable to speak or unable to comprehend the math of 2 + 2? This is Radical Wholeness. The essence of all persons is the Oneness of Spirit. No one gets to judge how wholeness shows up in another person.