1. Am I content with who I am becoming?
Some of the time. I love the person that is full of life and deeply engaged in it. I love the person that is generous, thoughtful, and helpful. I love the person that gives a lot to her relationships and lets the people in her life know that they mean a lot to her.
I’m not fond of the person that is scatterbrained, prone to depression and worry, and forgetful when it comes to birthday and anniversary cards.
And I really, really don’t like the part of myself that just doesn’t get it. Marching to the beat of your own drummer sounds romantic, but most of the time it just makes me feel a little isolated, like there is something missing in my thought process that is present for others. People who are nice about it say I’m “lost in my own little world.” I’m not that easy on myself, though.
2. Do my family and friends recognize the authenticity of my Christian spirituality?
I think so. I think they’re surprised at the way I approach it. I’m very C.S. Lewis- I want to know all the academics behind spirituality because I’m so logical that I need a concrete reason to believe. I know that there is and always will be a gap between logic and experiencing the presence of God, but I read so much and listen to such a wide variety of preachers that when I think of the authenticity of my faith, my goal is to make that gap as small as possible.
6. Is my prayer life improving?
Prayer has helped me to know myself better, to organize my thoughts, and has created an outlet so that I am aware and genuine in giving thanks. But I don’t have the same idea of prayer that a lot of people have, which is quiet and meditative. Sometimes I write letters to God. When I lived in Portland, I would sometimes arrive early for church at my cathedral and pray in the children’s chapel before I went to choir practice. There has been at least three instances this year in which I have gone to God in prayer so broken and defeated that all I could do was cry- and not mere tears slipping down my cheeks… the kind of cry that reverberates against the walls and if you see yourself in the mirror, it only makes you cry more because you look so hideous. It’s the sound of grief that comes from deep within, my sound of true sorrow. But I know God heard all my prayers, regardless of what it sounded like.
7. Have I maintained a genuine awe of God?
There are two images in my mind that reflect awe of God for me, and I use them whenever I feel that God isn’t listening. The first is the beauty and majesty of the Columbia River Gorge. It is impossible for me to think of my memories there without adding the phrase, “this is where God lives.” The second is singing with Trinity Choir and Consort during rehearsals of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Specifically, there are several movements in which the chorus is divided up into eight parts, and they are all terrifically intricate. When they come together, awe is the only appropriate word. All of the musicians are physically and emotionally open and together, we are creating this feeling that is so powerful that if we could bottle it, we could end wars and move mountains.
But in my day to day life, awe is mostly limited to the miracle of showing up on time and making sure that my sweater isn’t on inside out. It’s something I need to work on, for sure.
8. Is my lifestyle distinctive?
I would say that it is now, but I had to test a lot of boundaries to see why they were there before I could enforce them for myself… part of it was being logical and demanding a reason for everything. Part of it was just being young and a bit rebellious. But what I’ve learned is that the rules set up for Christians on how life works are not arbitrary and they are not based on ruining your buzz. But I couldn’t just hear that from someone else. I had to find it out on my own.
9. Is my “spiritual feeding” the right diet for me?
Oh, wow. I’ve had to deal with that question a lot this year. As of right now, it’s really not. I’d like to think that I go to church regularly because I listen to the Cathedral of Hope podcast. But listening to a sermon is just the beginning… I don’t have a community of faith that I give to or take from. I don’t support anyone else spiritually and I don’t let others support me. I go to a church once and decide it’s not right and move on. Actually, I did find a church that I liked a lot because it reminded me of my cathedral in Portland… and I have never been back because I cried so much that I was afraid to return. Afraid to tap into the grief of leaving Trinity and Portland behind, because that’s exactly what the church brought up for me. Which, of course, now I’m saying that I should go back because I need to let all that grief out instead of doing what I’ve always done, which is some variation of:
I find comfort in my books. I find comfort in listening to sermons online. But I will be very happy when I find the right community of faith.
10. Is obedience in small matters built into my reflexes?
It depends. Who’s giving the order? Do I feel that person has authority over me? Am I looking for their approval? If I want you to like me, I’ll do it even if I think it’s stupid. If I don’t like you, or if I don’t think there’s a very good reason for something, I’ll blow it off. I need to know why. I’m obsessive about “why.” If you can’t tell me, I’m outta there.
On the other hand, there have been lots of times when I didn’t think that something was important and then later on realized it was absolutely vital and wished I’d responded in a different way. I’m much more careful with my responsibilities these days.
11. Is there enough celebration in my life?
When I hear Angela’s laughter, or look into her bright green eyes
When I look at old family pictures- or new ones
When I find God in a place I never thought I would
When I think about my friends
When I think of the life experiences that make me who I am…
All of these are little celebrations that happen at any time, and I am so grateful.
I’m not sure Jesus died for my sins, and whether he did or he didn’t isn’t very important to me. For me, the real miracle of Jesus’ presence on earth was his ability to create equality among people who had none. Jews were divided against Christians. Christians and Jews were divided against Romans. Rich were divided against poor. All of these factions coming together, the wall between them crashing down… that’s my miracle. The rest could be stories, and they could be 100 percent true. But it’s not what I choose to focus on. I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything involving the gory imagery of the crucifixion or the spewing forth of the precious, precious blood… so much so that there are hymns I don’t like to sing, and art that makes me nauseous. Jesus is important to me because of who he was, not because of the way he died.
Moreover, I wouldn’t call my spirituality exclusively Christian, because I love going to temple and listening to the cantors, and there are several rabbis in Houston that I view as brilliant. I’m also open to new age spirituality, which for me is an expression of my love for God, but not firmly rooted in the Christian tradition. In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “I’ll take wisdom wherever I can get it, and I don’t want to stop at a [national] boundary.”
3. Am I generous?
I can be. The motto of the Lanagan family is and always has been, “if I have something, and you need it, it’s yours.” It’s a tradition that I’d like to continue for many years. But like everyone else, I get busy and turn inward, and plans for generosity turn into panic that I won’t be able to take care of myself if I give x or y away. The lesson about those things returning to me tenfold is ever present in my mind, but the panic never goes away, so it’s a lesson that I keep having to learn over and over. In my relationships with my family and my friends, though, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for them. I’d go to the ends of the earth for any one of them if they were in trouble, but I’ve never actually had to prove that I would.
People have called me spoiled because my family (on both sides) is well off. And while that might be true if my clan had been affluent my whole life, I think that in reality it has had the reverse effect. Because I have so much and I am thankful for it, I am more than willing to give it away, more willing to take risks because I know that there is a safety net under me because my parents all give of their resources freely. My prayer is that if I am blessed with children, that they will think the same thing about me- that I give out of my abundance and what’s mine is theirs.
4. Do I have a quiet centre to my life?
The answer to that is, “I’m trying.” There are times when I am in the depths of my depression that I am forced into solitude, but that’s a different kind of quiet than when I’m on an up swing. When I’m really feeling good, I tend to get so busy that I forget to meditate and pray, so it’s a conscious effort to take time out. I have known for a long time that I am a giver in terms of energy. I am perfectly willing to be “that guy.” The guy everyone counts on when errands need to be run or babies need to be watched. As a result, I get drained quickly and often forget to spend that alone time it takes to recharge my batteries. But now that I’m aware of my part in it, I am more careful about who I give my energy to, and more vigilant about my alone time. The part where it gets tricky is with my girlfriend. Sometimes I have trouble defining the line between “me space” and “we space.” Again, a continual process.
5. Have I defined my unique ministry?
In a word, no. One of the things that I have learned about myself over the last five or so years is that I am just terribly interested in everything and I really don’t have any focus when it comes to buckling down and deciding on a career. Everything I think I want I try to combine into something. So far, I want to be theology professor who practices law and networks her office computers on the side. I know I need more clarity, but the bottom line is that I am beginning to feel that I could be more effective as a lawyer than I could be as a pastor/professor, but that is not to say that my work wouldn’t be a ministry. When I think of the work that Dana’s sister Stephanie does as legal counsel to a battered women’s shelter, I know that she is ministering to people far more faithfully than I am. I’ve just preached a few times. She’s been in the trenches, handing out the loaves and fish.