Westminister Weekend for Women
Karen Hilfman Millson
………. thoughts over these past months.
I would like to begin my reflections today
by sharing some of my own story of discovery
and claiming spirituality in my life.
One of the things that I have learned on the journey
is that a significant part of deepening our spirituality
is in telling our stories……
because each story told
provides the possibility of insight
that gives permission to another
to claim their story or to notice aspects within their story
that may not have been noticed before.
In our sharing with one another we all gain.
When I was a child –
I remember having a strong sense of connection to a Divine Presence
who totally loved me!
I had a deep sense of knowing
that I was wonderfully loveable,….a gift…..a delight,
even though many life experiences
seemed to be designed to teach me
that I was a pest….. that I was not worth listening to….
that I talked too much and worked too little,
that I was irritating and obnoxious.
In my early years I couldn’t understand how people were missing the loveable me that I knew, and that I knew God loved.
But there came a time when I could no longer see the loveable me either
….that delightful child spirit was covered over and trampled down,
….my inner being was molded into a shape that I did not recognize
….seemingly squashed by doctrines and rules,
expectations and schedules,
attitudes and life understandings
that denied what I had known to be true deep inside.
The more I tried to live up to what I thought others expected of me,
the more I lost touch with the significant spiritual part of myself
and with that source of love
that I had always found deep in my center
At one time I had felt that I had a relationship with God
that was part of my everyday life….
but in time I was taught that the Divine is not found within…..
that God is far away up in the distant heavens judging us!
Since such a description
did not fit my experience of this one I called God,
I concluded that my experience was wrong.
So, I learned about God,
shifting from knowing God
to knowing about God.
I learned a second hand set of beliefs
rather than experiencing a first hand connection.
By the time I reached my late teens and early 20’s
it felt like I had denied the real me to the point
that I was living behind a facade,
a mask that covered my entire body.
What the world saw was a mask I labeled “The Golden Girl”.
The real me, the part of me that had strong feelings
about things like anger at the actions of others,
> the part of me that enjoyed the sensuous nature of life,
>the part of me that I considered grungy or unacceptable
because it didn’t fit the expected mold
— was hidden behind the mask and filled with fear,
because I was certain
that if anyone discovered this other part of me,
I would be rejected.
But the mask, the facade
became so consumed with external expectations
that it almost disconnected from ME.
The real me was dying to the world
because I was so convinced that no one would want to know the real me.
The time came when I decided that I could not live this way,
that I needed to risk being rejected by others
rather than continuing this total rejection of myself!
I began to remove the facade;
to risk living out of the fullness of who I am
letting the world see my grunginess and my struggles!
I was shocked to discover that NO ONE NOTICED THE CHANGE!!
All that effort I had put into hiding the parts of myself
that I didn’t think people would like,
for fear that I would be rejected,
didn’t even create a ripple in the daily lives of others
when I risked sharing the real me.
All that energy that I had used to please other people was wasted energy
…. energy that I now could use in much more positive ways.
I began to reflect that what each of us are invited to do,
is simply to be who we are!
….to bring our unique contribution, our unique perspective
so that we can combine all our gifts, strengths and wisdom
to move toward the dream
– the vision of wholeness and justice
that is planted deep within each of our hearts.
There was sadness in me at lost opportunities and wasted energy,
but also a wonderful sense of freedom and possibility
as I integrated this shift in perspective in my life,
in which I now understood relationships
as being rooted in the honesty of who we are.
For me – spirituality is about relationships….
it is about wholeness and connection….
it is about life – giving relationships:
1) in which we honour and connect at a deep level to ourselves,
to who we are and the potential we carry within us;
2) in which we seek out relationship with others
that is built on a foundation of
justice…. honesty…. openness…. forgiveness…. and love
– which is to want the best for one another;
3) in which we are open to connection with
— the eternal; abundant energy of love;
the Divine Presence; the Source, the Spirit of Life…..
God – in whatever way we experience and identify God in our life.
We are spiritual beings!
We have a hunger and longing within us to connect with:
with the source of our spiritual being,
mystery though it may be.
When I risked stepping out from behind the Golden Girl facade,
I took a key step in my journey
of moving toward the integration of the fullness of who I am,
which involved letting go of a whole lot of baggage
that I had piled on top of my spirit.
Only then could I move toward living life authentically.
The first steps will look different for each person,
and, be different each time
we go through a new deepening of our spiritual selves.
But that first step felt like returning home to what I knew as a child.
It was a returning home to me and to God
that in turn,
allowed me to be present to others
in a new way that made significant relationship possible
— for in clearing out the clutter within me,
a pathway of connection to the real me was uncovered.
Since then there have been many struggles along the way
– to again and again rediscover my authentic self
that has involved lots of learnings and new insights.
I experienced a sense of new excitement in the journey
about five to seven years ago.
A shift began toward spiritual awakening,
that is filling people all around us with a desire
to seek ways of making spiritual connection.
There is clearly a renewed hunger at this stage in our evolution
– to reclaim the spiritual part of ourselves.
Four years ago in a period of three days,
I had five women say to me that they felt they were in a time of transition.
I had the same feeling.
So I started a small group called “Women In Transition”.
After the first group ran for a nine week session,
we had to have two groups
because there were twenty two women
who wanted to be part of the second session of “Women In Transition”.
I used to chuckle when people came up to me
and asked what kind of transition you had to be in
to qualify for the group?
I would tell them
– that if they were going through transition
– they would know it and they were welcome to join the group.
By the next year
we had renamed the group to be a Meditation Group
because we had determined that that was our point of hunger.
People were hungry to discover;
2) they wanted to connect to the source of love and energy
they were discovering within themselves that felt different (and better) than definitions of God they had heard about….
3) we wanted to figure out how to clear the clutter out of our lives
(both past and present)
so that we could be present to others
rather than being consumed by the baggage we carried,
by the walls we had erected to protect ourselves,
or by the fear.
The process is on-going
but along the way there have been new insights and lessons learned,
seven that I have identified for today – that I’ll share in no particular order.
1) One key to developing our spirituality as women
seems to be learning to trust our intuition
– to notice what it is that we notice and to trust that it has value.
Surprisingly, it was
my very rational, logical father, who taught me
about the importance of listening to our intuition.
He told me (back when I was about 19 years old)
that when you feel prompted by your inner voice
— do something, make sure you follow up,
or in time you won’t get the messages anymore.
I find that the voice of judgement
often squashes the gentle insights of our intuition
– but if we can allow time and space for our intuition to rise up,
then we experience gifts – particularly in the area of relationships.
2) We do need to make room for quiet reflection in our very busy lives
……time to go inside ourselves to listen to our inner wisdom
to get re-balanced,
to get back in touch with ourselves
….So that our actions
come out of a sense of being centered in who we know ourselves to be.
That allows us to tap into a well
of life-giving nourishment for our day to day journey.
I remember a day when my youngest daughter
was being particularly demanding.
Not surprising it was a day when my schedule was already full.
Frustrated that I wasn’t getting through my list of tasks
– I sent her outside to play.
No sooner had I returned to my busyness when I heard her call out
– “Mom! Come see!”
That was it – I had reached my point of frustration
and I was intent on getting control of the situation!
I got to the door
– and she spoke before I could say anything
….”Mom! Look!” I looked – I didn’t see anything.
Then she looked up at me with glee in her face and said
“Mom – look at all the beautiful flowers!”
And she twirled amidst all the dandelions that filled our lawn.
In that moment
I felt the bottom drop out in me
– the level of frustration was gone
– replaced by an awareness of joy and gift
as I discovered a source of patience and love,
balance and healthy perspective
well up from deep within.
We need time,
days of rest as well as Sabbath moments,
to stop and notice what is really important,
to get re-aligned,
to reconnect to our center whether at
work, home or out in the community,
whether for the span of time of 2 deep breaths or longer.
Whatever we do to help us get centered
we need to make time for it,
quiet at the beginning or ending of the day;
journaling which many have found to be
a wonderful form of communication with our inner self
– that provides a gift of time of solitude and of connection;
a creative opportunity; walking or running; music;
asking for the grace to see ourselves as God has seen us this day
(which is an experience that always surprises and delights me
– since God sees through eyes of total love)
— whatever it is for us that allows us to reconnect to ourselves
and that well of energy within us,
we need to make time for it.
We need to
be intentional about listening and noticing.
Noticing what it is we need to know;
noticing where in our lives we are out of balance;
noticing the experiences of joy
and the presence of love in our lives
and in the world around us.
3) We confirmed for ourselves what many books and articles are saying:
women (people) need groups where we can share;
where we can share our struggles without anyone judging;
where we can share our joy without anyone putting a damper on us;
where we can name our questions without fear;
where we can be who we are;
where we can talk to another
so that we can hear ourselves
which often helps us discover what is going on.
Small Group Ministry is flourishing…….
4) We also discovered
that it is very important that we acknowledge
and celebrate and honour
our different spiritual types.
One resource that we use at St. Paul’s
for our “Finding Your Place” small group
identifies 4 spiritual types.
1) the contemplative who loves the silence and mystery of God
2) the one who enjoys spontaneity and a deep felt response
– who has a very keen sense of the presence of God.
3) those who like faith clearly spelled out with doctrines and creeds
4) the group who are most concerned that faith is put into action
that makes a positive difference in the world.
Most of us are some combination of the four types
– usually with one or two strongly identified.
Identifying that there are different types
gives us permission to be who we are
(it also helps to prepare a worship service
that will at some point speak to each type).
5) In the same way,
our spiritual journey is enriched
when we identify and claim the gifts that we have,
allowing us to make our contribution to the wider community
based on what our gifts are
so that the things we offer to do
to be part of building up and strengthening the community
will be life-giving to us as well as others.
6) Repeatedly we learned that doing the inner work involves tears.
Tears of grief, of sadness, of loss and tears of joy.
Tears that we don’t even understand.
Tears that sometimes need to become wails
because of the depth of hurt or anger within us.
We need to find places alone
where we can release some of the stuff that has been pushed down deep.
When people begin to do the inner work to connect to their spiritual self,
they sometimes want to back off when they discover the place of tears.
We sometimes try to build a wall to keep the tears down,
but that also builds a wall between our daily living
and the essence of who we are.
We discover at the center of our being
our higher self (as some call it),
who does not get hooked
in the ways, demands, expectations and hurts
of the world
the way our Ego self does.
Last spring during our week of Guided Prayer
– one woman told how a year ago,
I had encouraged her to dig out the light that was within her,
that had been buried beneath all sorts of realities of life.
She told the group this week that a year ago she thought I was nuts,
there was no light inside her!
After the past year of questioning and searching, tears and sharing,
she has now discovered the light within her.
through the help of community
and by being intentional in her life
lifted the layers that had hidden her light.
7)We have also learned
how important it is to understand ourselves
to be co-creators with each other
and with the power of love that longs for us,
as a creation
– to experience and know wholeness,
justice and well-being.
We are invited to be intentional about
sharing our gifts, time, money and energies
for the purpose of building us up toward the wholeness that is possible.
We need to be bold,
to continue to find our voices
and focus our energy
including our spiritual energy.
We need to listen
not only to our minds but to our hearts,
our guts, our intuition as well.
We need to dream dreams of wholeness.
We need to claim what we know deep within
– and to allow it to inform our choices and our attitudes
so that we can be part of moving this world toward
inclusiveness and an appropriate sharing and use of the resources we have
….and so much more.
To do so is to be aware of our call to be spiritual beings,
to connect to a source of energy
that is amazing profound love at the core of who we are.
We need to make the commitment to dig deep, to discover ourselves
— so that our living can be authentic and real,
so that the light of love within us
may be part of pushing back the places of darkness,
of struggle in our world.
When women become intentional about doing our work,
when women gather together in circle
to share at a significant level
to discover that still small voice within,
it feels (as someone wrote)
“more like a matter of who we are rather than of what we do”.
Experience after experience
of women gathered together
who make an agreement
to explore the depths together
has resulted in amazing connections
and new spiritual awakening.
The world is waiting….
It is pregnant with possibility,
of new beginnings,
of gardens filled with honesty spoken in love,
Let us dream our dreams of wholeness
Let us make each moment be a choice to discover
the gift and wonder of abundant life.
May it be so – Amen