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).

Day #17: Relationships

But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Ruth 1:16

If, as Bishop Desmond Tutu says, “A person is a person through other persons,”  then we can imagine ourselves as mosaics, colorful works of art given depth and brightness by the gleaming shards of the people we’ve met and been transformed by. In short, our capacity for resilience is shaped by the relationships we choose build. When Ruth’s husband dies and she finds herself a destitute and culturally marginalized widow, she invests in the most important (hopeful, mentoring, generous) relationship in her life. That hopeful, mentoring, generous relationship is with her mother-in-law Naomi, who happens to be a woman from a foreign country and religion. Ruth commits to that relationship, telling Naomi that no matter where they go, there is hope in their choosing to go together. Ruth prioritizes resilience through her relationship with Naomi and Naomi, in her grief, also is able to recommit to resilience. Ruth becomes an anchor for Naomi to (slowly, slowly, slowly) begin to see new possibilities for her life. Ruth and Naomi become compasses for each other, each one pointing the other in the direction of healing and hopefulness, and their friendships multiply outward in their new home, where they quickly build new, nourishing relationships. The best friendships work this way, guiding us through unnamable grief, drawing us toward love and community and a sense of belonging.

Takeaway: Think of the people who bring you to your most loved, most hopeful, most nurtured self–your compasses. The ones you’d consider moving for. The relationships that, built on a healthy foundation, allow you to grow and stabilize during seasons of upheaval. Touch base with one of your compass relationships today. No agenda needed, just a quick conversation to remind yourself who you are at your most loved.

 

 

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

Day #16: Justice

Zion will be redeemed by justice,
and those who change their lives by righteousness.
Isaiah 1:27

The South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu defines the Zulu word ubuntu as, “A person is a person through other persons,” or, “I am because we are.” Bishop Tutu advocated for a theology of ubuntu in post-apartheid South Africa, placing mutual thriving at the center of social and political life in order to build a more just and equitable society. Humans are created for interdependence. My flourishing is bound up with your flourishing. For this reason, resilience is social and resilience is political. Those who have the greatest need for resilience are those who have been most marginalized by political commitments. Our individual resilience is tied up with our commitment to justice for those around us. Bishop Tutu wrote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” The prophet Isaiah preaches that, in a moment when there is an elephant standing on the mouse’s tail, transformation, healing, and change will come from those who do justice. What does Isaiah mean by justice? He defines it: “help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” Redemption will come from those who restore right relationships—those who remember that a person is a person through other persons.

Takeaway: The nature of injustice is that it feels overwhelming to respond. Choose one act of justice today—one moment where you can say to the mouse, “I see the elephant on your tail and I will work to move it, no matter how long it takes.” Perhaps that means buying lunch for the panhandler you pass daily; picking up the trash in the parking lot at work; looking up your senators’ phone numbers and save them into your phone, so that you have them ready the next time you need to call and advocate for justice. Choosing to act is a gesture of resilience. It is choosing to be defined by your capacity to heal.

 

 

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

Day #15: Mentorship

So Elijah departed from there and found Elisha, Shaphat’s son. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him. Elisha was with the twelfth yoke. Elijah met up with him and threw his coat on him. Elisha immediately left the oxen and ran after Elijah.
1 Kings 19:19-20

 Resilience is the individual’s skill of bouncing back from trauma in a way that restores and strengthens the whole community. Resilience recognizes that the “me” is caught up in and needs the “we.” For most of his career, Elijah was a solo prophet, him against the powers that be and the world. And he won, mostly. But, just before the events in chapter 19, Elijah finds himself running into the desert escaping a death threat, and begging God to just let him die already. After several rounds of back and forth with God, God finally says: Well, go and anoint Elisha to follow you as a prophet and then we’ll see. Elijah’s call as a prophet is more than standing up for truth and seeking justice—part of his work is also identifying and empowering the truth-tellers and justice-seekers who will come after him. Resilience is remembering that you are not the last person to take up this mantle, and to throw your mantle onto someone else and empower them to continue carrying on this work. The Bible emphasizes how Elijah is in this work alone, but as soon as he invites Elisha, the younger man gives an enthusiastic yes. Elisha doesn’t just abandon his plow and ox in the field, but sets the plow on fire and roasts the slaughtered ox on it, throwing a big feast so that all his neighbors know his life is radically transformed. Elisha’s work won’t look exactly like Elijah’s. But, instead of insisting that Elisha follow in his footsteps, Elijah teaches him the basic steps of the dance and trusts that Elisha’s improvisations and embellishments will continue the legacy.

 Takeaway: It is hard to trust someone else to continue your work. But look around and–who is coming behind you in your work (paid work, volunteer work, church work)? Who is eager and capable of continuing your projects? Identify one of those people and reach out to them with encouragement. Compliment their work or empower them to take leadership. Trust that their approach to this project will not look exactly like yours—but you, also, took the legacy of those before you and added your own embellishments. We are all in this together, not only across space, but across time.

 

 

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

Day #14: Engagement

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
-Jeremiah 29:7

 Sometimes hopefulness fails. Sometimes persistence fails. In this verse, all the doom Jeremiah prophesied has come true: Jerusalem is crushed. The nation of Judah no longer exists. As he sits down to write a letter to his old neighbors, now deported to Babylon—neighbors like the teenaged Daniel, who is being trained into assimilation—Jeremiah pens these words. He assures the exiles it is okay to work for the good of the city where they find themselves, even if that city is a hellhole of heathens. It is worth it to make it a better place, even if you’re not convinced the place is redeemable. Stay engaged, Jeremiah writes. Just because hopelessness and displacement and corruption have won the day, we don’t get to tune out and go numb. But, Jeremiah warns, engagement is not the same as assimilation into the oppressor’s culture. Seek the peace of the city where you are: seeking the peace often means nonconforming, improvising, hospitality. “Build houses,” Jeremiah urges them, “plant gardens. Become resilient.” Carve out small, countercultural places for flourishing communities, even if it seems like the most grueling task in the world.

Takeaway: Do one thing to strengthen the community where you find yourself today, whether you are at home or traveling. Is there a city council meeting tonight? Go. Even if you don’t have an agenda. Build a Little Free Library. Visit the Little Free Library down the block. Go to the closest park. Walk there. Take a plastic bag and go picking up trash around the neighborhood. Do something that keeps you engaged in the welfare of those around you.

 

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

Day #13: Hospitality

He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them…
-Genesis 18:2

Recently, I asked an acquaintance to coffee, someone I’d known for years, a little-known but long-seen acquaintance who always seemed older, cooler, more confident, more competent. I was hesitant to ask her, and I felt awkward and imposing the whole (almost three hour) conversation. When she reached out later and said, “Let’s connect again soon,” it occurred to me for the first time that perhaps I was not an inconvenience in her day. I was surprised to realize she was not making a charitable indulgence to me, but actually experience a mutual sense of connection. In a culture that worships busyness, it often feels like a burden to ask someone for their time or company. In Genesis, Abraham boldly and effusively welcomes the strangers who pass by him in the desert. On sight, he offers water, bread, a place to rest. He offers hospitality without worrying about what else these strangers might have on their tight agenda or what he will do if they say no. Turns out, the strangers are actually God. If even God had time for a drink of water with whiny Abraham, who are we to assume our hospitality is inconvenient? Hospitality is the choice to move through the world assuming other people welcome connection. It’s the courage and the resilience to not wait around for someone else to make the first move.

Takeaway: How would you move differently today if you acted like everyone you met genuinely welcomed the chance to connect with you? As if you were not an inconvenience in their day? It’s easy to talk yourself out of reaching out to others. We avoid connection, for fear of imposing on people who seem far cooler and more together than we are. And yet research overwhelmingly concludes Americans (and others) have high rates of loneliness. Today, extend hospitality to someone. Whether it’s buying coffee for the stranger behind you in line or speaking to an acquaintance you’ve always wanted to make a deeper connection with, find a way to extend Abraham levels of hospitality. For today, believe people will welcome your invitation as if you’re offering them a shady tree in the hot desert. (And if they don’t–well, you’ve got 12 days of resilience behind you to remember how awesome you are anyway.)

 

 

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

Day #12: Improvisation

During their journey, as they camped overnight, the LORD met Moses and tried to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a sharp-edged flint stone and cut off her son’s foreskin. Then she touched Moses’ genitals with it, and she said, “You are my bridgegroom because of bloodshed.” 26 So the LORD let him alone.
-Exodus 4:24-26

So, uh, Trigger Warning: this reflection contains references to circumcision and murderous God. Exodus 4 is a strange story any way you cut it (no pun… never mind). Before we get into details, it’s worth noting that in the U.S.  roughly ¾ of infant boys are circumcised. The Centers for Disease Control actually recommends male circumcision for public health reasons. This story is early in exodus, after the Awe of the burning bush but way, way before Moses’ Boundary Setting (this is either referred to as the A.A. or the B. B. S. part of Moses’ life).  It’s strange, in part, because God was the one who sent Moses on this journey back to Egypt. Now God goes on a murderous rampage? We cannot overstate the weirdness of this story. But we can relate to the ways faith often requires improvisation, and Zipporah improvises before God. In circumcising her son, she ensures Moses will have maximum credibility with the Hebrew people he’s been sent to lead out of Egypt. It also sets the stage for Moses’ lifetime of improvisation, building a radically counter-Egypt culture in the middle of the desert with a group of nomadic escaped slaves. Moses’ whole life is like a massive improv show with God throwing the scene prompts. Resilience comes in the willingness to improvise when threatened.

Takeaway: The number one rule of is improv theater is to say “Yes, and…” Take what’s given to you and instead of denying or resisting it, add to it and turn the narrative a different direction. When you find yourself in a sticky situation today, say, “Yes, and…” Is there a way in which Zipporah—in this scene, in marrying a bicultural Hebrew man, in joining her husband’s social justice project, in returning to visit her father—says “Yes, and…” to God? Is there a way she says “Yes, and…” to despair? Channel the power of “Yes, and…” today.

 

 

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