Honoring the Choices of Others

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Today, we start a series of responses to Faith Aloud’s multi-faith Forty Days for Prayer. After looking at the prayers, which are currently being prayed during the Christian season of Lent, we invite you to send us your responses. Today’s post comes for our very own  Autumn Elizabeth.

I have made a lot of choices in my life. I’ve chosen which church to attend as an adult. I’ve chosen which birth control method to use, which people I want as romantic partners, and even which countries to live in. I’ve chosen to make a lot of decisions that other people may not understand. But in every decision, I know that God understands.

The God I know, the Jesus I follow, does not require me to justify my choices to those who do not know me. I am called only to make my choices with my God, and to let the choices of others remain between them and their God.

We can never know the real reasons for the choices of others. Yet, the universe calls us to love, not hostility.

I have chosen to protect the very women today’s prayer honors. I have stood in front of anger, hatred, and violence at abortion clinics and tried my best to project the love of God. That was my choice–to protect the choices of those who I do not know.

So today, I choose again to use my voice, my faith, and my love to shield people from harm.  I pray for the women who must walk through crowds of hostility and anger. I pray that more people will choose to protect everyone’s right to make their own choices with their own God. I pray that we all choose to honor choice with love, respect, and care. 

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Heartbreak, Marriage, and Divorce–Love Embraces It All

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By: Autumn Elizabeth

I’ve been thinking a lot about the life I would have now, if I were still married. I’ve been thinking about all the things in this life I have now I would have missed, and all the things I would have gained. Life isn’t always as simple as we’d like it to be. There isn’t just married and divorced, now and then. Everything bleeds together, and a little bit of the past always seeps out of a broken heart.

I’ve watched people lose everything when partnerships break, and I’ve seen people gain unbelievable freedom, I’ve seen divorce law work against everyone, and marriage inequality leave people without a legal leg to stand on.  I’ve seen the end of a marriage strip people of dignity and faith, and I’ve seen it restore belief.  I’ve seen all this in the lives of others, and in my own life.

I’ve also thought a lot about what it means to move on, to start over, and if that’s even possible. I think for some people moving on involves taking down pictures, and throwing away old love letters. But my elopement celebration pictures are still buried somewhere on Facebook, beneath almost two years of photos from my new life living abroad, but they’re still there. For me, the past doesn’t go away, life just steps in, putting ever more distance between the now and the used to be.

I haven’t forgotten how the refusal of my church to bless my same-sex union tested my faith in religion, but I also remember how the end of that union brought me closer to understanding the ways divine loves works through us all.  Where there is love, there is God, and my life, before and after my divorce, has been filled with love. Heartbreak just made me look at that love differently. Our hearts may be fragile and easy to break, the love of the universe is far sturdier.

Love flows through broken hearts, and wedding vows, it continues whether we erase our past or relish it, whether governments and churches sanctify or vilify it. Love continues even when we doubt its very existence. Love is there, in the smile of a stranger, and the hug of a friend, in the blessings and the break-ups.  Love lives, today and every day, and even the whole world’s collective heartaches can’t break it.

I’ve seen a lot for my time on this planet. I’ve been engaged to my high school sweetheart, I’ve eloped to Paris with a brave Midwestern woman , I’ve had an un-blessed, illegal marriage, and a lawless divorce,  and I’ve moved across an ocean for a new love. Everything bleeds together, the good and bad, the past and the present, the wedding vows and the divorce papers, it all runs together and somehow love embraces it all.

Beginning to Doubt

I’m a doubting Thomas,
I’ll take your promise,
Though I know nothing’s safe.
Oh me of little faith.
–Nickle Creek
Sometimes, it is not easy to live a life of uncertainty, a life of faith.
A few days ago, I got another rejection from a magazine that I had hoped would publish a piece of fiction I wrote, a piece I really believed in, a piece I really thought was good. But now I am beginning to doubt. I am beginning to doubt myself, my calling, my talent and even my faith.
I feel most in-tuned with God when I am writing creatively.  Most of my work as a Christian is tied to my work writing and editing for this very site. So when I start to doubt my writing, I begin to doubt everything.
Faith, like creativity, cannot be proven. I may never know if the God I believe in is real, just as I may never be able to empirically evaluate my talent as a writer or editor.  And just like faith, it doesn’t matter how many times someone else tells me that I am good, or that God exists, if I can’t believe it for myself.
So, one big rejection and I am beginning to doubt it all. Yet, I know as both a writer and a Christian, doubt is as essential as faith. I might even go so far as to say doubt is essential to faith. There are no sweeping comebacks if we don’t fall down.
I think to make sure I am sane, I have to doubt. If I am to continually believe in things that cannot be proven, I think a bit of doubt and perspective might help me decide what I want to believe in, and what might just be too far fetched.
But the most important thing about my doubt, is that I don’t leave it there. I work through the doubt, in my faith, in my writing. Will Donnelly recently asked”What if we were to see it [doubt] as the fire-starter it is?” Indeed, I know that doubt can move me to better places as well as bitter ones. My goal has never been to have unwavering faith, or constant inspiration. I want my doubt to move me. I want to work through my doubt to something greater. I want to have enough faith in my path, in my God, in myself to keep going with my doubts until the universe stops sending me rejections and rings with a resounding yes.
I often wonder what kind of example of faith I can be, when I question so much. Yet, I know that this is the only way to be an example of what I believe–to be myself, and live my life as I feel called, no matter how ridiculous I look or feel. I must share my doubts, when I have them, and my strength when it finds me.
But for now, its just me, here with my doubts and my determination.
Just a doubting Thomas, with just a little faith–but that’s just enough to get me to somewhere good.

A Prayer for New Beginnings

By: Autumn Elizabeth

As we explore beginnings, I wanted to offer this prayer for all of us who are starting new journeys. This prayer is my beginning, so everyone is welcome to modify it, customize it, and re-create to better fit their own journey and beliefs. If you would like to share you re-creations, we welcome you to do so in the comment section, or to submit your own prayer.   

Dear Spirit of Creation,

As I journey towards new places, new visions, and new dreams,
I ask that you go with me, and help me discover the beauty of this world.

I ask that you remain with me even when I question or doubt my new direction.
I ask that  together we carve out the trail that is best for me, in this place, in this time.

Help me to find my strength when I stumble or fall,
and help me to empower others as they journey along their own paths.

Assist me in seeing the help others have provided for me,
and help me to provide assistance to those I meet.

Spirit of Universal Creation, create with me a path of wisdom
and help me share love along my way.

Amen


Please feel free to use this and any of our content in services, prayer groups etc., just remember to link it back to us! 

Looking Back, Looking Forward, Beginning Again

By: Autumn Elizabeth

When I look back on 2013, I don’t quite know how to sum up a year of so many highs and lows, of so much loss and so much growth. As I look forward, I still have very little idea what 2014 will hold for me, even though I know it will hold a mid-year move to Paris and lots of continued work in graduate school. As I look back and as I look forward, I find more questions that answers, and yet, the new yer has begun, and I must begin again with it.  

I think that perhaps it is a blessing that I cannot distill the past year into a neat and tidy list of the top events, or a quick two-sentence summary worthy of a late Christmas card.  Surely the years in which we grow the most, the years which forever mark our lives, cannot be so easily summed up.  I have felt deep loss this year, losing several family members and friends. I have felt this lost keenly as I begin a new year in which none of these loved ones will share. I am beginning again, but they are not, at least not in the same way I am.

Yet, this past year has also held some brilliant moments of joy. I enjoyed several publications, I was accepted and began a graduate program, and I flourished in a country that was utterly foreign to me. As deeply as I felt the loss of my loved ones this past year, so have I felt the immense joy of my successes.

This past year has also marked world events of both pain and promise, as I believe many years do. Some causes for which I have prayed and worked have achieved great success, like the end of DOMA, and the return of the Arctic 30, and other causes have seen nothing but sorrow and violence, like the war in Syria.

And what does the future hold? What does it mean to look forward after a year of such uncertainty? As I look forward into 2014, I do see more uncertainty, and yet this does not disquiet me as much as it used to. I could not have predicted many of the events in 2013, and yet the happened and I survived, grieved and rejoiced in them. Looking forward, I expect 2014 will be no different.

I know that loss may come again, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping for joy in the new year.  I still feel the losses from 2013, I am beginning to see how much growth I experienced, and how greatly 2013 will mark me. I am just beginning to comprehend the enormity of last year, of each year and so I begin another year, with all the wisdom, love …and yes even lint, I can muster.

Mary’s New Tradition

By: Autumn Elizabeth

“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke 2:18-19

We have reached the pinnacle.  Those of us who celebrate Christmas have prepared our hearts, our streets, our homes, and our churches for this very moment. Jesus, Emmanuel, Messiah, born again for us, and we are amazed. We tell it on mountains, sing it with the heavenly hosts, and proclaim it with the shepherds. We have a thousand and one traditions to celebrate this very moment.

But what about Mary? Luke writes, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  Why does Mary take this moment to herself? Why doesn’t she celebrate with the rest?

Many people may point out that she has just given birth and must be exhausted, or perhaps her reaction is simply of little consequence in the grand scheme.  But Luke makes no qualms about the importance of Mary. In fact, it is Luke who provides the basis for the classic understanding of the Virgin Mary. Luke gives Mary a voice to accept God’s totally insane plan for her to bring forth God’s child.  I believe Mary’s meditation is meant to be something more than a small sidebar for the manger madness. So what does her response to the shepherds tidings of great joy tell us? What does it mean for us now as we hear this good news again, in the midst of hubbub and chaos of the season?

In a meeting with some infinitely wise young people after the first Sunday in advent I asked the question, “what are you hopeful for this advent season?”. I was intent on inspiring these young people to think about hope and its implications as we waited for Christmas. After giving a very thoughtful yet unexpected answer, one youth return the question to me, “ What are you hopeful for this Advent season?”  I paused. I racked my brain for the right answer, one that would be profound and inspirational. Then I realized, I didn’t have that answer, or any answer for that matter.  I had been so busy rejoicing that I forgot to reflect.  Had I proffered one too many Merry Christmas’s without really thinking about what blessing I was sending forth?  I had somehow myself with so many Christmas traditions that I had ignored the still small voice of the baby Jesus.  I was so wrapped up in what I was supposed to be doing that I forgot to take time to reflect, and understand the joy I was professing.

To preach joy without feeling it, to teach faith without believing it, these are signs of hypocrisy and Jesus was no friend to the hypocrite. So perhaps on the night of his birth, Jesus’ mother was showing me a wise and daring way to avoid being hypocrites while more fully understanding and owning my own joy.

I have much to celebrate in the birth of Jesus, in the life of  Jesus, and the his death and resurrection, but before I celebrate outwardly, I must reflect inwardly. I like to think that Mary eventually joined in the wild manger birthday party, but first she reflected, and she prayed. Mary didn’t do what was traditional or easy, but she made sure that when she sang of the arrival of the Jesus her words would reflect a deep inner understanding of the gifts God gave the world through Jesus.

So on this still winter night, despite the rustling wrapping paper and the familiar chorus of carols, apart from all of the traditions of this season, may each of us find a moment of quiet where we can behold the many joys of this season, and this year, reflect upon them.

Turkeyless Thanksgiving

By: Autumn Elizabeth

This year there will be no turkey on my Thanksgiving table, and not just because I don’t eat meat, or because I am thousands of miles from the United States of America.  This year, both in preparation for the coming advent season and to honor and raise awareness for those who go hungry everyday, I will be fasting for Thanksgiving.  

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As someone who was raised Catholic, I have been aware of the power of fasting since childhood. When we remove the metaphorical and literal filler of food, we can become aware of other ways to fill ourselves. To mark this year’s U.S. Thanksgiving, which comes to close the the start of advent, and which has already been embroiled in controversy about worker’s rights, with an absence of food seems the only right course for me.  I will have time to think about the meaning of gratitude, of gifts, of wealth, in light of both the upcoming advent season and the existence of massive worldwide poverty and hunger.

Given the confluence of Advent and American Thanksgiving this year, I have to wonder, how would Jesus celebrate Thanksgiving?  It is hard for me to imagine the Jesus I know, the Jesus of the poor, the outcast and the overlooked, sitting at a table overflowing with food in a nice warm house discussing how early he will be getting up to stand in like for the best black Friday discounts.  I imagine Jesus might be at a soup kitchen, or might hang out on the street corner with those who don’t have houses or dinners.  Jesus might be so shocked by the gluttonous feast, he might spend the day in the temple praying.

I don’t really know how Jesus would celebrate Thanksgiving, but I can do my best to follow his example. Maybe next year I’ll be out on a street corner, but this year it feels right to pray for wisdom, for change, for love.

There will be no turkey on my table this Thanksgiving, no mashed potatoes, no green bean casserole. I will sit, at my table, an ocean away from Black Friday plans and pumpkin pie, and pray for the wisdom to celebrate all my blessings the way Jesus might. So, no matter how, or if, you celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ll be praying for you.

Creating Sophia

By: Autumn Elizabeth

Sometimes creativity is about creating a work of art, or a play, or something that the world considers artistic. Sometimes, creativity is about following a small voice to create something new, and this is how Searching Sophia’s Pockets came into being.

I created Searching Sophia’s Pockets, with the wonderful Jenni Taylor, because something inside of me, around me, above me, pushed me to create this site, this place of safe exchange, and meaningful discourse.

It has not been easy, to follow the voice that told me to create this site. Many times I have felt like someone lost in a dense forest. Many times I felt that I was the wrong person to create this site, that I had the wrong skills, too little time, too few resources.  Yet always, that small voice of God returned to me, pushed me to continue, to keep creating something beautiful.

In many ways, this site is the biggest creative undertaking of my life so far. Together with Jenni, I gave birth to this idea, and made it a reality. There is still lots of work to do, and lots more to create but together we are creating wisdom, changing lives, and bringing together people who thought they had nothing in common. We are showing the world the creative power of shared spiritual journeys.  Together, with all of you, we are constantly creating this thing called Sophia.

Breathe it all in

By: Autumn Elizabeth

I breathe in the smell of incense at a Catholic church.   When I walk into a church, and smell that smell, I relish it. It reminds me of Christmas Eve midnight masses with my family, of Sunday mornings singing at church with my grandmother, of my baby brother’s baptism, and much more.

I breathe in the peace I find in watching the smoke of those incense curl and move and finally drift away. I think of each curl as a prayer being absorbed into the vast holiness of the universe. Each wisp a kindness that lingers just long enough to be noticed.

I breathe in the hurt and disappointment of the temporal nature of all things. Nothing stays except the holy, nothing is forever except the divine.  Like smoke we all disappear eventually, leaving only a vague impression of ourselves behind.

I breathe it all in. I breathe in that which is good, that which is mysterious, and that which is painful. I breathe it all in and know that it is the complexity of each breath that makes us human, and the unity of that breathe that shows us the divine.

A Prayer for Last Breaths

By: Autumn Elizabeth

As we transition from Loss to Breath, here is a prayer for the last breaths of this life.  I have found that there are lots of prayers for healing, or grief, but we don’t often consider how we will leave this life. I wrote this prayer as a prayer for a loved one, however, it can easily be converted into a prayer for oneself.  Please feel free to use this and any of our content in services, prayer groups etc., just remember to link it back to us!

Dear God,

I (we) ask that you make the last breath of my (our) loved one peaceful and pure.
Let them be filled with your divine love and wisdom.
Let their final breath be like a river meeting a stream,
as they end this life and are joined with the divine spirit of the universe.
I pray that their last breath resonates in the hearts of those they have loved,
and that no strife or hurt is done unto those loved ones with the final breath.
Above all, let their last breath honor the life they have lived,
and bring acceptance for its end.

Amen