Damn Work

“Do the work,” was the takeaway from my blog I got as a gift this week from a born female reader who was concerned about my going silent for the first time since October.  She wanted me to know that my work resonated as human for her and she had taken away my “mantra” of “Do the work.”

I did Heather Lapham Kopp’s “Sober Mercies,” the tale of how a Christian woman engaged her own recovery, requiring her to move from a faith of belief to a faith of love, one where the actual work of loving became the centre of her practice.  Her faith changed from a bulwark against transformation to an active process of change, opening her heart, becoming vulnerable, being present and doing the damn work.

I first presented about the recovery of the handmade, soul life back in 1994, understanding the parallels.   It is so easy to want to resist transformation, to take shortcuts, to play out old habits and stuffing behaviour rather than doing the work.

One woman born female in that session was very legalistic, her challenges with alcohol leading her to believe that abstinence was the only solution.  The problem with that, I gently said, is that for many of us, our addiction isn’t to a substance, it is to a behaviour, one that we can’t cut out altogether.   You can live a good life without having another glass of alcohol, but not without shopping, eating or shaming.

This week ShamanGal worked to see many of her own choices as being addictive behaviour, not based around substances but around choices.   She knows how to distract herself, how to keep her attention span low to avoid having to be present and bear with her emotions.   She reaches for the shiny and commercial, the way the world “should be” to avoid having to engage the way that the world is.   She wants to believe that more armour will save her, even as she knows that when she locks herself away she feels worse and wasted.

For Ms. Kopp, the heart of recovery is the community.   There is a shared commitment to recovery, transformation and growth, expressed in meetings, programs and relationships that helps her to keep doing the work.   She relies on the unit discipline to bring her back into the moment, accepting the gifts of others who have done the work and giving the gifts to others who are still struggling.   This process of engagement keeps her in a state of grace.

We all have to locate God in the world.   Do we see him as something outside of us, omnipotent and perfect? Do we look in the nature around us, trees and oceans?

I believe in a crowdsourced God.

She is a creation of humans, God as we see her, not a singular we, but a we of human communities who through time and culture have built up an image of who we know God to be in our life.  My Joseph Campbell biased view looks for the shadow of God in the stories humans have always told about creation, values, ethics and how to do the work.

God is seen through the one human nature we all share, across the lifetimes of people who needed divine inspiration and power, finding it in a way that transformed their choices and their lives, seeking everyday to do the work of becoming more enlightened, more divine, more compassionate, more close to the Godlike.

The Chinese born parents of ShamanGal appreciate what I say to their American daughter because it sounds so much like the ancient Chinese wisdom they grew up with, only in new language,  Crowdsourced God.

This week I have also reached out to people who identify as transgender activists, trying to help them do the work of seeing in a bigger way.   I have gotten back fury and vengeance, attempts to silence me as a despicable hater, a heretic and apostate.

They want a god of belief, not of work, want the world to value their still open wounds kept fresh under cherished armour.   Suggesting that it is healing, transformation and transcendence that really should be valued, the work of opening to love, feels like someone is just baiting them again, poking the old wounds which are the basis of identity.

The world needs to change to respect their victimhood, rather than having their healing lead the way to change across culture.

Ms. Kopp reports feeling blessed that God kept sending members of her target audience to rehearse on, other Christian women whose strong belief did not save them from addiction, but who were finding salvation through doing the work of recovery, the work of living in agape, in love.

This is the move between listening to preachy preachers, who speak for separation & fear, telling you how they have it wrong and listening to teachy preachers who speak for connection & love, telling you how to do the work.

For me, work has been a long lonely slog.  ShamanGal may have a mentor on the phone, but I had to build my own recovery alone. No sponsor for me.

I was saved by scraps, holding tiny lessons close until I understood them and then fitting them slowly and deliberately into a raggedy coat of many, many colours.  My test has always been against the shared human knowledge; do the answers I found resonate with others who also searched for connection and healing?

This hermetic scraping together of a new life has been valuable and I am grateful for its gifts.  It has left me, though, quite lonely, so isolated that leaps of love into a new and more beautiful life seem beyond me.

Where is the community that I rely on?   Where is the unit discipline and unit cohesion that supports expansion and growth?

I have known for decades now that if I wanted a church, that if I needed a church, I would have to build it.   Every other human group has bits and pieces, scraps of what I want and need, but no other group has put them together in the idiosyncratic, iconoclastic, shimmering way that I have.  I may look for a missionary to gather the flock, leaving me as visionary, but I know that I have to do the damn work.

How does one celebrate the human spirit by cultivating loneliness?   How does one not?   Isn’t the human spirit inside of us our own connection to God, the place we have to do the work?   Falling in with the beliefs of others may be easy and comforting but it doesn’t help us do the work we need to do to get closer to God.

The challenge of the return of the gift, the last stage in Campbell’s hero journey, is always the hardest.  It requires facing convention again and breaking through, bringing the jewels from your journey inward into the community of humans who would have that gift if they wanted it.

The work for me is leaping.   Doing that after a lifetime of inhibitory shame, of a very personal and individual journey is just asking a great deal.   I don’t have a community of transcenders, an audience with clear shared traditions and needs.  I am, after all, a rather queer duck.

Human life, though, always requires doing the damn work.   I know that my work has touched at least a few others. Maybe it can touch more.

So much damn work to do.