"By crying help, we choose expansion rather than contraction, advance rather than retreat." p. 108
"But you don't criticize, condemn, chide, or reject yourself. Rather, you join God in God's desire for your own expansion and well-being." p. 112
My small group at Woodland Park United Methodist Church (WPUMC) is still reading Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality: a Life With God in 12 Simple Words. I first wrote about it here. Our most recent chapters were about the word, or prayer, help.
I'm not much of a pray-er in terms of bringing petitions to God for intercession or some kind of result. I grew up with a terminally ill father and a terminally ill aunt, both of whom I was close with. I learned that the people we love suffer and die. Prayer does not interrupt or otherwise alleviate that. So for me, prayer at its best has come to mean more about good company with God while we live, survive, endure, make the best of... the life that is.
But the idea of expansion brought a new facet of prayer to light. That prayer might expand my consciousness, for example - expand (and deepen?) my understanding of what Little N needs right now. So a few nights ago I prayed "help, help me with Little N in all of this," and then I went to bed. I rested with a calmness about Little N that contrasted with the anxiety and fear that I'd brought to my prayer. When I woke, I had new clarity about some changes that I could make in my attention and behavior that would better support my son. I'd say I was expanded. It didn't take away or in any way reduce the challenges before us, but I was better equipped and aware of how to engage and follow through in healthy ways for our family. And the responsibility to engage and follow through was on me. I was granted new insights and the choice to respond to them.
Another place I'm perceiving expansion is with our small group at WPUMC. During the years of choosing and living in my marriage I also chose to let some of my values (peace, social justice, feminism at its best, spirituality etc.) drop away. I was mostly aware of it; I deemed them unrealistic and unlivable for ordinary folks. Though in some ways I assumed these values were still around, paused perhaps, latent, but that we, as a couple, would resume them. It's become evident, now, that these are my values and not my husband's. In small group I see and hear these values made central and significant in our conversations. Ordinary people, not front line activists or otherwise public figures, who make a point to talk about these values and to work together to live them. They model these values for me and when I go to group open to receiving help I am expanded by their example.
I believe that this expansion is what God wants for me, and for all us ordinary folks. To live open, deep, expansive lives in our families and communities. That, I guess, is where social change (peace, social justice, feminism at its best, spirituality, etc.) becomes the common sense of a culture and gradually ousts meaner, stingier world views (not that it worked in my marriage, hmmm). And I love that McLaren makes the point that we don't cut ourselves down for being small or contracted in some way. We love ourselves with God, we cultivate richness in our lives, together with God. And I'd add, we extend that same gentle tending of love to others.