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 #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).