Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cathy at the Controls

After nearly two months of being housebound and still a bit unsteady on my feet, I had the privilege of attending one of the Upper Room's 5 Day Academies for Spiritual Formation last week. (I am grateful for the scholarship, the nearby location in Federal Way, and the kindness of the organizers who minimized my need to walk.) 

The time was wonderfully rich, spiritually nourishing, and thought-provoking. Among other blessings: I reconnected with Pacific Northwest friends from my 2 year Academy for Spiritual Formation in Burlingame 10 years ago, listened deeply in a small group I had the privilege of convening, wrote lots of poetry and reflections in response to our presenters on the theme of "From Contemplation to Action," and cried, and laughed—mostly at my own foibles. 

One of our presenters, Seattle spiritual director Suzanne Seaton, talked about "The 7 Deadly Needs":

The Need to Know
The Need to be Right
The Need to Get Even
The Need to Look Good
The Need to Judge
The Need to Keep Score
The Need for Control

 Ah, how humbling that was! I saw the way I'd lived my life for decades (until I was nearly 50). I needed to know, and to be right, but mostly to be in control: Control, for me, would guarantee that I'd know and be right. And, I remembered when all my attempts at control were not working, and when I finally risked stepping back from long-ingrained patterns to try and live a life that truly relied on faith and not on my works. And sometimes, all you can do--or want to do, or should do--is laugh at yourself. 

So, have a laugh at me, on me:

Picture a gated community, a private compound where upon arrival you key in your code and the iron bars slide open, then close behind you. Once inside, you circle the plaza with a gleaming bronze statue of the woman who planned, designed, and founded this neatly gridded subdivision.

The epigraph on the statue’s pedestal reads: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares Cathy, “plans to prosper you and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and us all a future.” It is, of course, a quotation from the holy book of the prophet Cathy Warner, chapter 29, verse 11.

Welcome to Warnerville, where Cathy is in control of everything and everyone, devoting herself tirelessly to creating a safe stable, clean, orderly, and undeniably beautiful city, a shining beacon on a hill, a utopian paradise where no homes are splintered by dry rot or divorce, no relationships broken by discord or disease, where no one drinks anything other than sparkling artesian water, and epithets are never hurled.

In Warnerville, Cathy’s expectations are always met, cheerfully, and on time. The residents are responsible, tidy, and amiable. Here bipolar refers only to the Arctic and Antarctic, a borderline personality is simply neighbors conversing over the back fence, and depression is a hole dug for planting.

On any given day, you will find Cathy perched high in her control tower, radio tuned, binoculars in hand, scanning the horizon for trouble. Her vigilance is designed to guarantee only health and happiness for those she loves, and the world at large. To that end, she monitors the coordinates of family and friends as they work and walk, sleep and shop, in her walled city, following preapproved plans drafted by Cathy herself.

At first life in the enclave is perfect, but over the decades, decay takes root in Cathytopia. Walls are being scaled, chain-link fences sliced, and gate codes given to unauthorized persons. The statue is toppled, the control tower vandalized. Homes are abandoned and the population dwindles until Warnerville becomes first a slum, and then a ghost town.

Left alone in the tower to ponder her lack of power over the land and its former inhabitants, Cathy wonders if she ought to let someone else with more experience and skills take charge—God perhaps. With nothing left to lose, she takes a step and tentatively puts a hand on the ladder and starts to slowly descend. It’s a long way down.


  1. You're NOT alone in trying to be in control!

  2. This is it exactly. Thank you, Cathy. Funny yes but sobering, too. It IS a long way down!