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 #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).

Day #34: Risk taking

They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, Jesus threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves.
Mark 11:15

 

Some days, you do flip the tables. The day after Jesus shows patience in the temple, he returns and commits this drastic protest art/social movement, inviting the temple visitors to radically rethink their relationship to God. Jesus throws out those who market salvation via consumption (of the currency exchange for tithes; the purchase of doves for sacrifice). Jesus invites the temple visitors to bring their whole, bare, vulnerable selves to God and that that will be enough to save them, whatever it is they need saving from. It is this moment that cues all the dominoes that will fall until Jesus hangs on a cross. And yet Jesus takes the risk. Resilient people have been burned, threatened, lost friends—they know what’s at stake in their actions. And sometimes, they take the risk anyway.

Ruth, a perennial personality in these last 33 days, also chooses risk when she approaches Boaz late one night and essentially says, “thanks for your donations but I deserve to be more than a charity case to assuage this community’s guilt that so get it together and marry me.” And her honest, unconventional proposal works (but that’s another story). The point is that this is a real risk for Ruth: she’s a widow; she knows marriage isn’t as secure as it appears. She knows, better than anyone, the heartbreak she’s risking and, for all that she is a charity case, she’s pretty stable at the moment. She could continue with the status quo, gleaning for survival, for a long time. But she decides to risk connection and risk the possibility of new, healed community.

Takeaway: Resilient people have walked through the fire; they know it burns. And they know it warms. They’ve experienced pain, but they’ve realized if they spend their whole life avoiding pain, they’ll also avoid joy, love, belonging, hope. Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of the last week of this practice. What do you want to hold in this last week of thinking intentionally about resilience? Are there risks you’re weighing, and are you trying to rig the scales in favor of the decision that scares you less? Try to hold that risk not in terms of how scary it is but in terms of the possibility of healing, for yourself and your community.

 

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

Day #33: Patience

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11:11

 

Remember that time Jesus went to the temple and didn’t flip over tables and banish the moneychangers? I didn’t either, until I reread Mark 11 this week. Mark is careful to point out that the day before Jesus storms into the temple and throws out the corrupt moneychangers and commodifiers of salvation, Jesus goes into the temple and… does nothing. Jesus looks around, and “because it was already late in the evening,” leaves. Maybe the disciples were hungry; maybe there weren’t enough people to make the protest worthwhile; maybe everyone was tired from a long day waving palms and dancing in the desert sun. Jesus sees something that doesn’t sit right with him, but he waits before reacting. There’s a certain amount of patience in resilience—a sense that we don’t always need to react out of our emotions, or that our reactions will benefit from more thoughtfulness. In other words, resilient people pick their battles. They don’t exhaust themselves and their collaborators fighting every fire. They pick and choose which fires to fight when they have the water and peoplepower to put it out. For an afternoon, Jesus disrupts the temple economy and kicks out anyone who tries to make a profit off guilt. But not this afternoon. Not today.

Takeaway: Patience is another word for picking your battles. Patience means not collecting and carrying every pebble your emotional landscape brings to the surface. Carrying a bag of rocks doesn’t always makes you stronger. Sometimes it just makes you grumpier.  Where can you be more patient? What battles aren’t worth fighting today? When you notice yourself getting riled up today, take a cue from Jesus: look around the temple and, if it’s metaphorically “late in the evening,” go home. Think on it. Regroup. Gather your energy and your people. You can wait until tomorrow to flip the tables.

 

 

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

Day #32: Remembering

This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation as a regulation for all time.
Exodus 12:14

 In the last two days, forgiveness and seeing the good, I don’t mean to say that resilience is about selective memory or forceful forgetting. Resilience is not about glossing over traumatic experiences. It’s about reshaping the memory, finding containers for the memory so the remembering doesn’t spill over and gloop onto every moment of your life. Remembering is critical—you learn to tell the stories of pain in ways that empower you and reveal your strength and grace. This is why the Exodus from Egypt begins with a ritual of remembering. The Hebrew slaves observe the first Passover on the eve of their liberation, at God’s instruction. God gifts the people a container for the memory. God gifts a way to contain and transform the trauma of slavery. In the Christian tradition, Passover becomes the Last Supper and Good Friday. The trauma is different, as Christians anticipate Jesus’ brutal and unnecessary murder, but the practice is the same: to create space in the calendar for remembering, to have a container to put some boundaries on the power of that memory. It’s a process, and our rituals may require some adjusting year to year, but finding ways to remember without being overwhelmed by memory is one way of healing.

Takeaway: Today may be a time to revive an old ritual: light a candle for a loved one; read a favorite story; recite a comforting childhood prayer. If you’re observing Easter, maybe it’s a day to make plans for a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday (next week). Or, take a moment to establish a new remembering ritual today. I recently created a Prayer Jar, where I put the prayers that are too big or too overwhelming for me to carry alone. When I find myself getting overwhelmed by a worry, especially near bedtime, I write it down and put it in the jar, physically giving it to God and giving myself space to rest for the night. Look for containers for the sloshing memories you hold.

 

 

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

Day #31: Seeing the Good

Better a meal of greens with love
than a plump calf with hate.
Proverbs 15:17

In my previous job, when I worked with teenagers, people would sometimes look at me with sympathy and say, “That must be so hard.” But the teenagers I worked with were constantly astounding me. One summer, I took them to a sweltering, weed-infested community garden on the West Side of Chicago where they were supposed to do yard work… but no one had brought shovels. When I told the kids to wait until the shovels arrived, they instead began removing the thistles by placing their sneakers on either side of the plant and jumping up, hard. They made a game of it. They found a way to see the best in a field of thistles with no gloves or shovels.

Even though I’m vegetarian, I love this sentiment from Proverbs (and am lukewarm on salads, in general). It’s not about what you’re having for lunch, it’s about scanning the table until you see something beautiful. Resilient people have a knack for being in highly stressful situations and pointing out the one joyful thing in that place. Resilient people choose to see the good, not because they are blind optimists, but because the good is what will give them energy to get to the next day.

Takeaway: See the good. When you catch yourself complaining, turn your attention to whatever small good thing is nearby: a plant growing under fluorescent light; the giggling infant at the DMV; the first daffodil of the spring while you’re sitting in traffic. Practice reframing the day, not out of naïve optimism, but because anger is exhausting. You only have a finite amount of energy; why waste it on all the things that make you unhappy?

 

 

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