Day #27: Releasing

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.
Matthew 10:14

You are a gift. Your presence, your skills, your ideas are a gift. But when you give, you can’t control how a gift is received: it can be treasured or tossed, used or abused by the recipient. Jesus explains to his travel companions that when someone rejects your gift, you don’t have to sit there giving them more gifts and watching the other person throw them away. It’s not our job to force people to receive us! Jesus says to his disciples, don’t exhaust yourself persuading people who are comfortable rejecting you. You can shake the dust and move on. You can fail and move on. The Christian call is not one of arm-twisting everyone into a vision of order. The Christian call is to invite everyone to the party and see who shows up. Jesus tells us to celebrate the party that happens—not the party that you wish would have happened. Sometimes, we get so attached to the idea of Christian service that we believe we’re doing God a favor by staying in a place where we’re diminished, teased, and dismissed. God is not impressed by pain tolerance. Just before this, Jesus says, “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” If a house is not worthy of your presence, you are not obligated to stay there forever on the chance that it will become worthy. Many hard things are worthwhile. But some hard things are worth releasing. Sometimes, what we’re called to do is shake the dust and move on. Move with generosity, hospitality, and kindness. But move on.

 Takeaway: Shake some of the dust you’ve accumulated, from a village you’re walking out of today or a village you left years ago. Dust from yesterday’s frustration or dust from a childhood experience. The what-could-have-beens. The places that broke you when you loved them. Shake off the past that you’ve let cling to and limit your future. As Jesus tells his disciples, there is a world full of villages to visit. It’s okay to release one of those villages from needing you, and to release yourself from needing to control every village you enter.

Still not sure what it looks like to shake the dust? Take a listen to Anis Mojgani’s poem “Shake the Dust” and imagine living in a life where you “do not settle for letting these waves settle and for the dust to collect in your veins.”

 

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

Day # 26: Accountability

For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.
Esther 6:4

“Our deepest fear,” wrote Marianne Williamson, “is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” It’s often true that we do not fear failure; failure only confirms our belief that we are worthless. Often, our deepest fear is success. If you step into your power, you will have to release the easy excuses that you are too young, too old, too unqualified to change the world. Resilience requires us to be honest about when we have the power to change lives for the better. In the above verse, spoken by Mordecai to his niece Esther (who happens to be married to the leader of a political superpower), Mordecai challenges Esther to claim her power. The Jews are about to be massacred, and it is within Esther’s power to stop it—or at least, within her power to ask the king to stop these events. Esther generates all kinds of reasons she is powerless and the plan will end in disaster. And it’s true, the king does not have to listen to her. She could fail. But Mordecai responds with this: you are accountable for helping others. He insists on her power, when she fails to see it in herself. Sometimes it takes a mentor, a teacher, in this case an uncle, to remind us that it is okay to claim power. It is more than okay; when it is in your power to improve the lives of others, you are accountable to do so.

Takeaway: Who, recently, has asked you to step into a role beyond your comfort zone? Is it someone you trust, or have been mentored by? Is it possible they’ve identified gifts you’re afraid to embrace? It’s not worth nothing when people who know and love you identify your power and ability to help others. Listen for that stretching, scary invitation. Be open to the possibility that you are more powerful than you realize. Perhaps your power is needed at such a time as this.

 

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

Day #25: Being with God

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Mark 1:35

 

If being alone cultivates resilience, it’s also a sign of resilience to know when to cut off the meandering, insecure trails of your mind and go and be with God. It is a skill to be alone. And it is a skill to bring yourself into the presence of Divine Love and let yourself be Loved. Invite yourself to Holiness and fill up with the sacred. Let yourself give up solving all the problems of your daily anxieties. Call out to God intentionally when your mind is too unsettled or too overwhelmed to calm itself.

God is Love, the Bible says, over and over. Calling out to God is calling out to Love. In the Bible, Jesus usually takes some time to be alone—followed by a time of being with God. In Mark 1, Jesus wakes up early to place himself before Divine Love, to rest and be present in all that is greater than him in the universe. In between two big days of healing and preaching, Jesus centers on the fact that he is loved beyond human dimensions. When the sun comes up and his friend finds him, Jesus has a calmness and a sense of purpose, and tells Simon, “let’s head in the other direction.” Jesus returns to prayer, to presence with God, again and again so that everything he does is grounded in love and purpose.

 Takeaway: Mary Oliver writes,

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed.

Find a moment to be idle and blessed today. When you have a quiet moment, settle yourself; take a few deep breaths. Invite yourself to Holiness. Feel the Holy all through your body, around and in you. Breathe in love. Breathe out love. Be near to the love that is the source of the universe. Be loved.

 

 

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

Day #24: Being Alone

Right then, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake, toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying good-bye to them, Jesus went up onto a mountain to pray.
-Mark 6:45-46

This is not a reflection against extroverts. “Being alone” doesn’t mean “to avoid recharging through relationships.” Extroverts recharge their emotional batteries by being with others, and introverts recharge their emotional batteries by stepping away from others, but we all learn something by being alone. By “being alone,” I mean learning to sit with what is going on in your body and your emotional landscape. Letting emotions soak in instead of skimming the first emotion off the top and responding only to it. Notice what’s under that emotion, what’s under your sense of anger or fear or pleasure: this first emotion may not actually be rooted in your anger at your parents, but your worry that you will become like your parents in the worst ways. Resilience requires you to be alone with your baggage—your uncomfortable, awkward baggage. To take the time to practice emotional honesty, to sit with emotions that scare you without numbing or cutting them off. Numbing is just a way to ensure you’re never uncomfortable. But discomfort is not always bad. We have to be willing to do our emotional homework without requiring someone else to make our homework into their homework. I know. It hurts.

Jesus spends a lot of time trying to be alone. Arguably, his whole ministry is getting sidetracked on his way to be alone. In the above verse, after Feeding the Five Thousand, Jesus intentionally creates space to be alone. To sit with all the emotions that the day brought up for him, and to release them before going on to the next day’s work. We don’t always get a chance to do this sitting and releasing between days, but it’s an important practice. Being alone in this way gives us space to do our own healing work as we try to extend healing to others.

Takeaway: Would it be awesome if we all spent one hour before bed sitting alone with our thoughts? Awesome, and terrifying. And a logistical mess. If you don’t have the space to sit alone for a long time today, use your transition spaces to be alone. When you’re in the car, turn off the radio. When your hand flicks toward your phone, pull it back. Use the few minutes of waiting or driving or in-between-ness to be alone with yourself, to notice what’s going on inside you.

 

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

Day #23: Kindness

I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
Matthew 25:35-36

Violence doesn’t happen out of nowhere. It has a cause, a root, an origin. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” We wound others out of our own wounds, numb and release the pain that’s been inflicted on us. But healing does not happen out of nowhere, either. Healed people heal people—by their very presence they draw others in, make them feel worthy and good enough. Healed people are just kind, with no other agenda. What Jesus outlines in the above verses are a vision kindness, and Jesus says this by way of explaining God’s priorities for humanity. God prioritizes kindness. Feeding the hungry; satiating the thirsty; welcoming the stranger; clothing the naked; caring for the sick; visiting the prisoner. Resilient people are just kind people. They prioritize acts that enhance the lives of others, for no other reason than it makes the world a better place. They move through the world making it easier for the rest of us to heal.

Takeaway: Kindness is not linear; healing is not linear. The human emotional landscape is circuitous and needs constant re-rooting in kindness and hope. Set an intention for your kindness this week—what is one way to connect more kindness to your daily movements? When I am trying to re-root in kindness, I often return to the Alanis Morissette song, “That I Would be Good.” The prayer-like song is a plea that, whatever else happens, the singer will keep kindness at the center of her life. It’s a gorgeous reminder that the center of  life is not success or invulnerability or wit or the ability to hide my imperfections—it is kindness. Listen to this song (or one of your personal favorites for this theme) and re-root in kindness today.

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

Day #22: Apologizing

When he came to his senses, he said… “I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”
-Luke 15:17-18

A couple days ago, on Day #20, there was a typo. It was more than a typo—from 6am to 3pm, there was a whole sentence fragment floating up in the middle of the reflection that made no sense and disrupted the flow. I’m sorry. I was grumpy and wanted to be done with the day and for a second, I didn’t care so much. I was fulfilling the letter of my Lent discipline but not the spirit. It’s a small thing, but I apologize because I believe in apologizing. I believe in owning imperfection, in acknowledging that your public image will have holes poked in it and the human will show through and that it will not destroy the rest of your life. The Bible doesn’t say much about apologizing or being sorry, not in those words. I suspect that there’s no word for “sorry” in Hebrew or Greek, that the concept of “being sorry” was inseparable from the concept of “missing the mark of who God created you to be” (ie., sin). In the Greek, sin literally means “to miss the mark.” The Prodigal Son, in the verse above, could be called sorry. Or he could be called “missing the mark.” What’s beautiful about the Prodigal Son is the line, “When he came to his senses….” It’s a new realization that apology is an option. From there, it’s simple enough to put the plan into action. It just took time to remember it was possible. We invest so much energy in not admitting when we mess up. Sometimes it takes an epiphany to remember apology is an option. Being clear about your errors create space for rebuilding, restarting, resilience.

Takeaway: adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy, reminds us apology is not failure. She writes, “Everything we attempt, everything we do, is either growing up as its roots go deeper, or it’s decomposing, leaving its lessons in the soil for the next attempt.” Apology is compost. Work on your compost today, let your mistakes settle into the earth and decompose. Let them become lessons, fertile and disintegrating, feeding the seedlings you’ve planted since. Maybe today is a day to practice apologizing. Maybe it’s a day to sit with yourself and look at what seeds are growing from your compost.

 

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

Day #21: Decentering Ego

Where were you
when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me if you know.
-Job 38:4

Job is arguably the most downer parts of the Bible. (And the Bible has a lot of downer parts. In one of them, God dies.) Job 38 is the passage where God finally, finally speaks back into Job’s tortured sorrow. For 38 chapters, Job has been questioning God, saying, “My children are dead, my wealth is gone, and my friends are a bunch of insensitive victim-blaming jerks. Why, God?” And when God finally deigns to speak, God goes all Kendrick Lamar on some, “Sit down, be humble” vibe. God says, “Oh, you have questions? Well I have questions, too. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” Not helpful, God. But then again, maybe once in a while, it can be comforting. God continues on, asking Job if he can leads the constellations across the sky or call forth sea monsters to play with his children; if he knows where mountain goats give birth or why the ostrich is so dumb (cf. 39:13-18). God never apologizes or explains why so much horror happened to Job. Maybe God doesn’t have an explanation. Maybe what happened is inexplicably tragic, and not even the Creator of the Universe can justify the pain Job went through. But what God does say is: “The universe is bigger than you.” There are worlds and worlds beyond your tragedies, there are lives and moments continuing on. This is one of my very favorite Bible passages, because it is so refreshing to remember the universe does not revolve around me. Whatever is going on in my life, in some corner of the universe something awe-inspiring is happening. A horse is dancing. The mountains are standing still, just being mountains. Just being a place where my problems are not.

Takeaway: It can be an act of resilience to remember that the universe is big enough to contain your pain—and much more than your pain. No matter how overwhelming it is, there is something else in the universe. This week, when stress starts spiraling up your body and everything feels like it’s about to fall apart, stop. Breathe. Remember that somewhere out there, there’s an ostrich “flap[ping] joyously… God didn’t endow her with sense… but when she flaps her wings high, she laughs at horse and rider” (38:17). Breathe again. Go on, knowing the universe is big enough for all your pain. And the ostrich.

 

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

Day #20: Curiosity

…magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
-Matthew 2:1-2

Children of a certain age like to play the Why Game, asking, in response to every answer, “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?” It’s a surefire method for annoying adults, but it’s also the child’s discovery of curiosity: there is always one more question to ask. The world is full of strange and wonderful things we’ve never seen and these children are realizing the only limit to curiosity is fatigue. As adults, we learn to reign in our curiosity, to mind our own business and set limits far before we’re fatigued. The magi remind us that curiosity is a strength and that we learn only as much as we make ourselves available to new learning. They are three grown men who have decided to shape their lives around the decision to not mind their own business. They live in a state of curiosity. Their curiosity begins with the highest level of power, in the court of King Herod, but they quickly realize that curiosity goes beyond our hierarchy, and to learn only from those in power is to learn only what supports the status quo. The magi allow curiosity to lead them to unexpected places, and discover the journey was more worthwhile than they’d ever imagined. Curiosity is the belief that the unknown, far from being terrifying, may hold miracles that will make your life fuller and more astounding.

Takeaway: Be curious in a new direction. Ask questions of someone you haven’t gotten to know; duck into a new place purely to see what’s in it.  Wonder. Explore. Assume God moves in the space between your ignorance and your knowing.

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

Day #19: Art-making

 Both men and women came forward. Everyone who was eager to participate brought pins, earrings, rings, and necklaces, all sorts of gold objects….
-Exodus 35:22

Community art projects, at their beginnings, are mostly just piles of wood and paint. Blank chalkboards. Scraps of a first-grade arts supply cabinet. Exodus 35 is a community art project on steroids. This verse kicks off five chapters—FIVE—of tedious detail about the community’s glammed-out Arts & Crafts camp in the desert (“then they wrapped the yarn around the popsicle sticks, then they glued sequins onto the yarn,” etc. Read chapter 37 and tell me you don’t hear it). This art project is more than a creative interlude to pass the time in the desert. These five chapters of art-making parallel the five chapters of plague stories that occurred at the beginning of the book, while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. It’s a direct response to the experience of slavery and freedom, and this collectivist arts movement is a deliberate attempt to create a new culture that will not repeat the hierarchy and human rights abuses of Egypt. Everyone is invited to this creative enterprise that repurposes private wealth collected from the Egyptians into a shared living history museum and worship space, where the art signals collective hope, healing, and freedom. To make art is to reshape the objects around you into something more beautiful, expressive, meaningful. It’s a sort of resilience with your hands.

Takeaway: Four or five roommates back, I lived with two wonderful women who kept a Happiness Wall on a large sheet of butcher paper in the hallway. Anyone who stopped in added a picture or phrase of what made them happy, and over the months we lived together, our community art project became a visible sign of the laughter and love in our lives. Perhaps today is a good day to start a Happiness Wall in your home. Or, if it’s not, find another way to make a moment for creative space. Perhaps a few minutes of doodling during breakfast; sitting down with the guitar after work; making up a song in the car. Even if it’s making a salad, approach the process like an art project—cut the tomatoes in a different shape, throw some unused spice in the dressing. Give yourself permission to take the pieces of your day and create something unexpected, something beautiful, expressive, meaningful.

  

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

Day #18: Praise

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
-Psalm 139:14

For several years, I worked at a summer camp where the chosen greeting among staff was, “What’s good?” Maybe I was too literal, but I always wanted to reply, “The swimming pool at 2pm. The sound of the birds in the forest. Pickup basketball with the staff after the campers are in bed.” What’s good? It’s a choice to greet each other looking for the best in each other. It’s a question for the heart, a question that begs reframing, gratitude, centering on the most possible part of the day. It’s a greeting that invites you to examine the day for ways to praise. What’s good? The sun rising in 5am brightness. What’s good? The soft mulch making way for my feet when I walk into the woods. What’s good? Me, my body, what it can be. What I love about Psalm 139:14 is that the praise of the Divine is linked to experience of Awe in the self. I praise because I am in Awe of myself. Praise is the act of giving thanks for the experience of awe.

Takeaway: In college, when I took a class called Religion & Sexuality, one homework assignment was to stand naked in front of a mirror for 10 minutes and find as many things as we could to praise in our bodies. This blog is not an Ethics/Theology undergraduate course, though, so I only recommend that if it feels valuable today. Otherwise, find a way to express your praise. Maybe that’s saying out loud all the “wow”s you feel inside. Maybe it’s gratitude to the one person who makes your day an inch better. One of my favorites is to think of one thing you are in awe of and write an ode to that. Be as effusive as you want, it’s your resilience.

 

 

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