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).

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Day #29: Honesty

She said to them,
“Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.”
-Ruth 1:20

 When someone asks “How are you?” it’s easiest to say, “I’m fine.” There are so many reasons to settle for the easy answer: we don’t want to worry anyone, or waste someone’s time with our personal woes, or, worse, have our grief mocked.  But denying the deeper feelings is a coping strategy that only works the first time. (As one friend says, “All coping strategies become coping strategies because they work the first time. The problem is, they don’t always work the fourth or fifth time.”) Ignoring your feelings is a coping strategy that leaves you more and more isolated, because no one else is allowed in the grief. You can spend a lot of energy defending your right to keep kindness out.

When the women of Bethlehem ask Naomi how she is doing after a decade and three family deaths away, she answers honestly: “Call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly (marar) with me.” She doesn’t insist that everything is looking up or that her grieving has past or that she’s happy to be home. She tells the women exactly how she feels. This honesty sets the groundwork for her relationship to the women: the ones who can’t handle her bitterness have permission to move on, and the ones who are ready to accompany her pain know exactly what they’re accompanying. Interestingly, no one ever calls her Mara—the only time Mara appears in the Bible is when Naomi says it. But saying it is an important starting point for Naomi. She can tell her community, “Everything is not okay, I’m carrying a lot of pain right now.” 

Takeaway: In order to heal, we must be honest with ourselves about the magnitude of the wound. A band-aid won’t work on a broken arm; a cast won’t work on a sliced finger. If we insist, “it’s no big deal,” when the pain is breaking our hearts, the lie denies us the possibility of ever transforming the pain. The broken arm goes on aching even with a band-aid. Practice honest feeling today. When someone asks, “How are you?” give an honest answer. And when you ask someone else the same question, ask for an honest answer. I work in a building where people answer honestly, “How are you?” It means the beginning of the day is often slow and it takes a while to get settled (especially on Mondays), but by the time we begin working, we know all the emotions sharing the office. We know who needs extra tenderness; who has extra energy to give; who needs space. The honesty at the beginning of the day means there will be extra kindness during the day.

 

 

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