Or, what to do when you drop the dog food
I dropped nearly a whole bowl of dog food onto the floor this morning. It was a spiritual epiphany.
The breakfast for my 9-year-old German Shepherd, The Lord (because “The Lord is my shepherd”), must be wet and mushy because she has TMJ, which makes her jaw quite sensitive to hard, crunchy foods. Much of the wet mess went down my pant leg, then splattered on the floor.
“Well, that’s messy,” I said out loud to the empty kitchen.
This, friends, is a miracle moment. Not even a year ago, I would have immediately been angry, and yelled a bunch of swear words at the gooey mess at my feet. Not only that, but I would also have shamed myself for being so clumsy. “Dang, Chellew, you can’t do anything right.”
This morning? I simply observed the obvious. I had made a mess. I was not angry. I had no words of admonishment to myself. I simply got a broom and towel, cleaned up the floor and served the dogs their breakfast.
Many years ago, one Jubilant, commenting on the spiritual practices we teach at Jubilee! Circle, wisely observed: “Either this shit works, or it doesn’t.” I’m here to tell you, it works. Yes, it takes a bit of time to unlearn past patterns and erase all the tapes of shame and blame that play in your head from past traumas and abuse, but as I always told my classes when I was a Weight Watchers leader, “The program works if you work it.”
Even for me, the one who preaches every week about letting go of our fear, doubt, and unworthiness, it took some time for those axioms to really sink from my head’s intellectual knowledge into my heart and become a knowing and a way of life.
Even for me as the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, released nearly 15 years ago, and founder of Whosoever more than 25 years ago, it has taken some time for this to sink into the marrow of my bones.
Now, I am better at using the tools I teach about to be willing to recognize my old self-abusing patterns, see them for what they are (useless!), heal them, and let them go.
Sometimes it’s hard to really see our progress along the spiritual path. We try and try time and again to use the tools we’ve been given — willingness, awareness, recognition, mindfulness, meditation, forgiveness, prayer — and time and again we feel like we fail. Certainly, LGBTQI people have been given that message to internalize by the society around us. And we continue to play it back to ourselves.
Then, one morning you drop the dog food and those old friends, anger and shame, fail to show up to the self-abuse party. In that moment, you know that all your work is paying off. It’s like stepping onto that spiritual scale and seeing that 10 pounds of self-shame and blame have gone away.
I have been a student of A Course in Miracles since 2016 — but only seriously for the past four years or so. A Course is often maligned as teaching “spiritual bypass” by denying reality, or as downright heretical by those from my own Christian tradition. For me, though, it has given me a lens by which my tradition, and the world, finally make sense.
A Course is a mind-training manual that helps you strip away everything you thought you believed about this world — that it can bring you happiness, joy, and peace from outside of yourself.
Once you learn that everything you need is already within you — or as Jesus puts it, “The realm of God is within you” — then you slowly begin to understand that the only world you can truly change is the one you carry around in your own mind.
People and cultural norms may have told me at some point that I was worthless, clumsy, stupid, sinful, or unimportant, but it was my choice to internalize those things and make them into the foundation of my self-identity. If it’s true that it was my choice — albeit an unconscious one — to build my life on the shifting sands of shame and blame, then it’s true that I can choose to demolish that shameful shack and build my house on the rock of worthiness, love, peace, and joy that created me (and all of us) in the first place.
There was a seismic shift in my soul in the kitchen this morning. My emotional house of cards did not crumble at the first sign of what I believed was my deep character flaw of clumsiness.
Instead, I was simply a human being who spilled the dog food, and now had a mess to clean up.
Once I had changed the world in my own mind, the world outside me changed. Anger and shame were no longer part of my experience of this messy moment.
One of the axioms of A Course that I rely on heavily is the simple idea that we always have the power to “choose again.”
We are not inherently sinful people, scarred forever by some “original sin.” We are originally blessed spirits who are always one with their Creator and everyone that we believe to be separate from ourselves.
That means that while we may commit errors in judgment or mistakes, we don’t have to “repent” or beat ourselves up for them — we simply choose again and make wiser decisions based on what we’ve learned in the moment.
How are you treating yourself today? Are you berating yourself for those dog-food-spilling moments where you yell at yourself for being so clumsy, stupid or unworthy? I invite you: Choose again. Choose to listen to the voice that tells you that you’re loved, because you were created in love, peace, and joy. The voices that tell you anything else about yourself are lying.
That berating ego voice is often the loudest one in your head, so here’s a practice you might try: When the loud, shameful voice of ego starts in on you, take a deep breath and say, “Thank you for your input; now I’d like to hear Spirit’s voice.” (Or God, or Universe, however you envision the Creator.)
By simply taking that moment to acknowledge the shameful, angry voice instead of following it down the rabbit hole, you create space for Spirit to speak.
This is a simple willingness to hear a different voice — the voice of Love that will reassure you that you are, indeed, worthy of joy and peace.
If you can make this a consistent practice, then one day, when you observe the mess you’ve made in that moment, you’ll simply grab the broom, clean it up and realize that you have made the better, wiser choice.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.