Easter: Happy Skunk Cabbage Day

When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)
Mark 16:4

You didn’t think it was over at Day 40, did you? It was—technically, we’re all off the Lent hook now. But, whatever your discipline was, Lent isn’t intended to be a one-and-done. We return to old routines changed. We create new routines, maybe not with the strictness we adhered to during Lent (goodbye waking up at 6am to write the next day’s reflection!), but we carry who we’ve been these 40 days into who we become from here. The stone is rolled away. This morning, we put on our Easter dresses and sing and feast. As a teenager, I loved picking out my special Easter outfit, always anticipating warm weather and bare legs. April’s gonna be April, though, and more often than not I spent Easter morning digging through my closet for tights or sweaters. We didn’t think resilience would look like this. It seldom meets our beauty standards.

For some of these posts, I used a picture of an early spring bud: a skunk cabbage flower.

skunk cabbage centeredThe flower bursts up early, even before the crocuses. It generates its own heat, even to the point of melting the snow, and it also smells terrible (which attracts the flies that pollinate it). It’s a fitting image of resilience: heat-generating, life-giving, and funky-smelling. The beautiful and the rotten, not glossed over, held in a balance that favors life and makes the unpleasant tolerable. The beauty of resilience might also be a little smelly. What Easter brings is rarely what we expected or anticipated. Prepare to be surprised by your own healing. Let your resilient self astound you.

Skunk Cabbage bloomed

 Takeaway: So we release the need for the future to look exactly how we planned. We release the stipulations we demanded before healing. We let resilience open us to what we’d never considered possible.

Take a listen to this song by Rising Appalachia, called “Resilient.” Carry it with you as you move from Lent into the season of Easter, as you sit with who you’ve become and who you still are to become: “I am resilient/I trust the movement/I’ll show up at the table/again and again and again.”

Day #40: Integrity

Everyone from Judah who is living in the land of Egypt will die by the sword and by famine, until all are gone. 28 Those who actually survive war and return from Egypt to the land of Judah will be very few.
-Jeremiah 44:27-28

Not everyone gets a happy ending. The resiliency gospel is not the prosperity gospel—there is no promise of wealth and happiness here. So the ending returns to the beginning. This series began with a passage from Jeremiah, where the prophet bought a field in a collapsing nation state, with a near-defunct currency, to create a deed that wouldn’t be honored. To prove that there is still hope in destruction. By the end of his life, Jeremiah has been dragged to Egypt on a fool’s errand with some refugees trying to avoid war. War comes to Egypt, and most of the people Jeremiah accompanied to Egypt don’t make it out. Jeremiah dies in Egypt, although we aren’t told how. Meanwhile, in Babylon, where the other half of the nation was deported, life gets marginally better but it still sucks. And then the story ends. It doesn’t get better.  Jeremiah remains resilient as he can through war, national crisis, and bad decisions. He has integrity. But it doesn’t get better. He just tries to bring his best self to a world getting worse.

Takeaway: Resilience is a sexy word in pop culture. It was so trendy I was reluctant to make it the center of my Lenten practice. But actual resilience is not very sexy, because it’s an admission that things might not get better. Life could get harder than it is now. Tomorrow, Jesus will resurrect, but he won’t stay, God won’t stay in flesh on earth. This embodied hope we came to count on—the friendship and mentorship of the kindness of the universe—it doesn’t stay as close as we wish. Resurrection is hope, but it’s not resolution. We still have to make a way in the world with hope standing at a distance. When I think about climate change, the American economy, the institutional church, I realize: it might not get better. But I want to bring my best self to the worst times, even if the worst of times go on and on and on. Several times during Lent, I’ve read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road,” and it summarizes best the resilience I want to embody. It’s the integrity of hope in all circumstances. Ada Limón writes of the Great Blue Heron as a symbol of hope, and says “I think even if I fail at everything,/I still want to point out the heron like I was taught.” Read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road.” What does it look like to point toward hope, even if you fail at everything?

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #39: Mourning

Joseph from Arimathea dared to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body.
Mark 15:43

Grief is not a cupcake. It’s not even a yoga class. American culture boasts that we need only recognize grief to the degree that we can consume our way out of it—every loss has an equal and opposite purchase. This consumption-minded approach approaches grief with the intent to reach satiation as quickly as possible. But grief is a tool of resilience. You are sad because you care. You love. You are present. Making adequate space for grief is an act of resilience (and usually grief takes more space than you think it should—why is grief always manspreading?). Today is Good Friday. There is a saying among pastors, “You can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.” Sure, Easter has the flowers and the decorations and the better food. But you can’t show up for the resurrection if you aren’t willing to show up for grief. How you gonna show up in church saying “He is risen” when you didn’t even acknowledge he was dead? Even Joseph of Arimathea, a Roman-allied politician with a soft spot for Jesus, allows himself some grief. He dares to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. He makes sure the body gets a proper burial. He pays his respects. He goes deeper into his sorrow instead of numbing it out. There is a bravery in grief. We are not afraid of who we are when we ugly cry.

 Takeaway: Today, Good Friday, is the day Jesus died. Create space to acknowledge this anniversary of the loss of God. Go to a Good Friday service. If you can’t make it, light a candle today. Spend five minutes in silence. Read Mark 15. Stop at verse 47, don’t read ahead. Risk grief. Be brave enough to feel the feelings of loss without moving to solve them. Easter will come. But Easter without Good Friday is just a sugar-high and an egg hunt. Easter with Good Friday is a healing, a salvation, a resilience.

Day #38: Vulnerability

He asked, “Who are you looking for?”
They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He said to them,
“I Am.”When he said, “I Am,” [the soldiers] shrank back and fell to the ground. He asked them again, “Who are you looking for?”
-John 18:4-6

If vulnerability is willingly opening yourself to being hurt, embarrassment is the experience of finding yourself vulnerable in a place and time you didn’t intend. These few short lines from John are embarrassing for the soldiers. They show up to arrest a dangerous revolutionary with “lanterns, torches, and weapons,” and instead they find an empty-handed man who asks ignorant questions. As if Jesus looks at them and says, “Nice costumes, guys, is it Saturnalia already?” The soldiers literally fall over with embarrassment. And it’s supposed to be literal—John writes the whole crucifixion story as a Greek drama, peppering the pre-death moments with a dark humor. The soldiers are embarrassed but Jesus, too, is embarrassed in this scene. What kind of God allows someone to bind his arms? What kind of God allows death to be forced on the Divine? A God who chose vulnerability over violence. An utterly helpless, naïve, gullible God. A God who gives humans every chance to do good, up to the very last moment. It’s that vulnerability that makes this story so enduring, and so hopeful.

Takeaway: At the crucifixion, God becomes vulnerable to humanity. God opens Godself to the possibility of being hurt. As if God wishes to tell us: it’s okay to be known and to be hurtable. You are made to be known, which means you are made with the possibility of being hurt.  Notice, today, when you sidestep vulnerability: when your motive for doing something is to avoid embarrassment or exposing some piece of yourself for judgment. Try to edge toward vulnerability. Open up, just a little farther than is comfortable. Make a joke you’d usually hold back, in case no one laughs (it’s embarrassing). Or admit to doing something stupid (how embarrassing). Or tell someone you love them (what if they don’t love you as much? Embarrassing!) If even the Creator of the Universe is willing to be embarrassed, we, too, can risk a little embarrassment.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #37: Gratitude

He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
Mark 14:23

 Like love, gratitude had to show up in this series. Gratitude is one of the most researched and scientifically-endorsed paths to resilience. Gratitude tends to cause joy. But I’ve been avoiding gratitude because there’s just so much of it all over the Bible. Where to begin? It is, perhaps, the nature of gratitude to ask: Where to begin? For what can I be grateful, should I be grateful for first, and once I start, how do I know when to stop? What “counts” as gratitude and what’s me just upending “Thank you” to the thought I wanted to say? When Jesus offers the first Communion at the Last Supper, it is gratitude and belonging woven into a ritual of resilience. One of the last gifts Jesus gives is belonging and thanks. One could argue that Judas betrayed Jesus because he’d forgotten what it meant to feel gratitude–at least, it’s a convincing theory. The poet Ross Gay wrote,

“what do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?”

and I can’t think of a better description for Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, and into Gethsemane, to the cross, telling the disciples to love and love what every day goes away.

 Takeaway: Try it, this way of saying thank you: set a timer for five minutes and write a list of things you’re thankful for. Keep your hand moving, when you run out of things to say just write “thank you thank you thank you” until something new comes to mind. “Bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones/the whole rusty brass band of gratitude,” as Ross Gay writes. When you’re done (but only when you’re done), if you want to transform your life, just for fun, listen to the whole 13-minute glittering universe of Ross Gay’s poem, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.”  It’s worth every second.

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #36: Belonging

Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. 17 The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They called his name Obed.
Ruth 4:16-17

 

“We belong in a bundle of life,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes when he describes ubuntu, the South African philosophy that “a person is a person through other persons.” At the beginning of the story, Naomi lost the people through whom she was a person: her husband, her two sons, a daughter-in-law. At the end of the story, she stands in a bundle of life, becoming a new person through the new persons surrounding her. The end of the book of Ruth is belonging. For everyone. Call Ruth a love story of two people if you want, but those two people need a whole community to bring their love to life. When Obed is born, he belongs not just to his nuclear family, but to his whole community. “A son has been born to Naomi,” the village women say—these same village women who refused to call her Bitter when she spoke honestly of how she felt at her lowest low. Why do the women say that? The son is not Naomi’s, yet they belong to each other. And so do the village women belong—Obed is not named by his mother and father, or even by his grandmother, he is named by the neighborhood women who will grow up with him in the streets, looking after him and his parents and his grandmother. Obed’s birth is the symbol of everyone’s belonging. Each person becomes more a part of the community by his presence.

Does belonging always mean a fairy tale ending? Of course not. Ruth is a family story, but not everyone finds belonging in nuclear family (even one as nontraditional as Ruth and Naomi’s). In 1867, generations later and on a different continent, Mother Jones had a Naomi-like experience when she lost her husband and four children to yellow fever. She never married or had more children, but took the name Mother Jones and organized miners’ unions and advocated for better working conditions. She was at the center of every march and movement and created a labor movement where everyone belonged: widows, bachelors, children. Belonging is not always about blood family; it is also about chosen family.

Takeaway: Jesus wove an odd bunch of male and female disciples into “a bundle of life.” He taught people who had nobody to belong to each other. As we approach the sorrow of Holy Week, we also draw closer to each other, leaning toward the ones to whom we belong. Create a quiet moment today to name and pray for the ones to whom you belong, near and far, the people who give and create home for you.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #35: Celebration

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Mark 11:9

 A good party is a good party. And Palm Sunday is a good party. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, he creates a gregarious, impromptu party (Jesus tends to do that). People begin to lay down their coats. They cut down branches and start waving them. They sing and dance. And on the other side of the city, somewhere in Jerusalem, Pilate is also holding a parade. Pilate, dressed in his military regalia, riding a warhorse, is riding through the streets displaying the Roman military might, and around him pedestrians are compelled to applaud and wave branches for this display of patriotic power. Pilate tries to force a party under threat of violence. Jesus creates space for people to share love, and that love yields a joyful all-ages party in the streets. In a highly stressful time, he revives the spirits of a discouraged, impoverished ethnic minority under occupied Roman rule.

Jesus invites hopeless peasants to find a reason to celebrate. He invites them to name and nurture their resilience. The whole community orients toward joy, working together with a purpose and an enthusiasm that hasn’t been seen for a long time. Sometimes resilience leads to celebration, and sometimes celebration itself becomes a doorway to resilience.

Takeaway: Find something to celebrate today. Hold a dance party with your children. Write a congratulations card to your co-worker who ran a 5k. Wave a palm branch when no one asked you to. There is plenty to mourn during Holy Week, the last week before Easter. But over and over (in the Triumphal Entry, washing feet at the Last Supper, sharing Communion), Jesus roots the people in practices of celebration. He creates ways for them to carry each other into joy. This week will take a turn for the somber, but today, there is celebration.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).