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).

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 #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).

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 #8: Generosity

 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here, eat some of the bread, and dip your piece in the vinegar.” She sat alongside the harvesters, and he served roasted grain to her. She ate, was satisfied, and had leftovers.
-Ruth 2:16

Bread. Vinegar. Toasted grain. It’s a simple meal, but for a subsistence community, it’s a generous one. Boaz owes nothing to Ruth for her courage to show up in the field—she is allowed to be there, by law, and to glean, but Boaz owes her and the other working-class women who glean nothing. Yet Boaz extends generosity. He gives to Ruth above and beyond what the law requires. Maybe he just thinks she’s cute. (There’s always the cynical interpretation.) Or maybe he knows there are no guarantees in life but in this moment he has more than enough and who is he to keep the more when he has enough? Maybe Boaz is just resilient. Resilience is generous. Intriguingly, recent scientific studies show generous people tend to report greater happiness, lower depression, and better physical health. Perhaps it’s because they’ve traded a scarcity mindset for a mentality of abundance—they spend less energy keeping others out. Instead of “what’s mine is mine to keep,” they say “what I have been given is mine to give.” They know that there is more to gained in giving than in defending. Anything we have been gifted—food, shelter, love, friendship—is ours to re-gift and magnify and multiply. What I have been given is not mine, but ours, and we will always be stronger in generosity than in selfishness.

Takeaway: Be generous today. Give before it is asked. Give more than what is asked. But don’t give what you don’t have to give—give of what you have in abundance, whether that’s cash or time or compliments or a freezer full of blueberries or a sense of humor. Share it generously with those you meet today, so much so that they will have leftovers.

 

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

Day #6: Courage

 Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field so that I may glean among the ears of grain behind someone in whose eyes I might find favor.”
Naomi replied to her, “Go, my daughter.”
Ruth 2:2

Elanor Roosevelt is supposed to have said, “Do something every day that scares you.” Maybe she was thinking of Ruth, who took that maxim to its extreme, when, after the sudden death of her husband, she followed her mother-in-law to a foreign country and then insisted on providing for them both. In this verse, Ruth takes her courage and, first, confronts her mother-in-law about her plan and then, with her mother-in-law’s consent, walks out the door to execute it. Courage is more than persistence. Persistence is the exhausted cheerleader inside your brain waving a half-hearted just-get-through-the-game pompom. Courage is what happens when, given the choice, you choose the path with the greatest possibility even though it terrifies you. Imagine what would’ve happened if Ruth had chosen to stay home—never made a career as a professional gleaner, never met Boaz, never married Boaz and provided for her mother-in-law. Not exactly: because of cultural convention, Ruth probably would’ve eventually ended up married to one of her mother-in-law’s relatives—but because of her courage, she gets a level of choice and consent in her marriage that was otherwise impossible. Courage is choosing to stay an agent in your own life when you have the option to become passive. To happen to the world instead of letting the world happen to you.

Takeaway: Of course your task today is to do something that scares you. A big scare or a little scare, but something to take that amorphous cloud of fear and stick it into a courage-shaped jar that fits in your pocket. Sign up for that salsa class; make a plan to pay off your credit card debt; call the therapist whose number you’ve had for weeks. Do something that scares you—because you’re already scared, the difference is that today you’re doing something. 

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