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 #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).

Lent is Not about Guilt, it’s about Resilience

The week before Ash Wednesday, my internal clock blasts a grating alarm, demanding that I search out something adequately worth giving up. (I wasn’t raised in a very Lent-observant family, but I always found anything self-minimizing to be impressionable.) It’s like last-minute Christmas shopping in reverse: return all the happinesses and cash in on austerity. Give up something! Lent is the season of repentance and reflection in the church calendar, but for many it’s more of a season of deprivation—giving up chocolate, alcohol, social media, meat, those small indulgences we know we “should” be moderating the rest of the year. It’s the restarting of New Year’s Resolutions with all the pep talks, guilt trips, and resignation contained in January.

And when you get to the first week of March, no one wants to repeat January. Continue reading