Friends, I believe we are spiraling.
Despite our best efforts at becoming less individualistic in our society and in our churches, we still run in circles and cycles of loneliness and exhaustion. We still long for community and connection.
We are spiraling downward in cycles of religious bigotry, Christian empire, and toxic masculinity.
And when we want to heal, we think it must come quickly, from Point A to Point B. We don’t think of healing as a process of taking steps forward and steps backward, of having grace for the long haul.
And because of that individualism by which we operate, we are repeating those toxic cycles again and again, and they are leading us into toxic conversations in person and on social media.
So, friends, I’d like to talk about healing.
A few weeks ago I shared that for Lent I am giving up my ignorance of institutional sins like racism, sexism, ableism, religious bigotry, colonialism, and others. I decided that I have to look for those Old Habits that Die Hard. I have to be paying attention.
But you see, this requires some painful thought processes and conversations.
It requires us to dive headfirst into the pain of our own lives, into parts of ourselves that perhaps haven’t been healed yet.
And yet, the Spirit bids us come.
I attend a Be the Bridge group in Atlanta, and in our latest meeting we talked about the difficulty of holding truly healing conversations on race through social media. Often, it requires face to face conversations in which both parties are willing to say, “I’m listening,” for true healing to occur.
In my mind, there are three aspects to this that we need to truly heal, at least bit by bit:
First, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in our midst.
I like to call this tethering. To be stable in the work we do on a daily basis, in the conversations we have with others, we have to be willing to notice God in our everyday circumstances. That’s exactly why I wrote my first book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places. I wanted to explore the idea that all of us are capable of being mystics, of living lives of contemplation, of seeing and experiencing holiness in our everyday messes and mishaps, in our joys and celebrations.
Recently I attended a women’s book club to talk about the process of writing Glory Happening. It was an honor to sit with a group of women who spend so much time together, to hear them admitting openly that they want to notice the presence of the Divine more, that they want to dig their hands into garden soil or go on longer walks, just to notice.
I was led into the kitchen by the young daughter of the family hosting the book club, and she pointed me in the direction of a chalkboard hanging on the wall. A prayer from my book was written in little-girl-handwriting, and it took my breath away.
This family is choosing, together, to find God in the unexpected places of everyday living, and like I pointed out to them that day, while we were gathering in a circle drinking coffee and talking about seeing God in our midst, it is work.
It is work to make ourselves stop long enough in a crazy society of distractions and illusions and addictions to notice what is sacred and waiting for us.
But it is worth the work.
Second, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in ourselves.
In Potawatomi culture, we ask, “How is your fire burning?” As the People of the Place of Fire, we were literally the people who tended to the fires traditionally, but still, we have an awareness that there is a sacred fire in all of us, and we are called to tend to it, to notice it, to respond to it when it is beginning to go out. It requires self care and self examination. But it also requires us to look without shame and judgment, something I only learned a few years ago.
Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, legalism mixed with my own ability to self-judge meant that I had journal pages full of confessions and hopes that I wouldn’t be abandoned by a God with a gavel and Naughty-or-Nice list. Self-examination along with self-love were difficult to come by, and it’s taken years of unlearning to get to a point (sort of, almost) where I can at least attempt to see myself the way God sees me.
Can we all work toward that?
Can we admit that to heal means we have to see our own stories and our own pains alongside God’s love for us and not separate from it? Can we acknowledge that God sees us as divine and good, even when we are tired?
I spent a few days at an airBNB in the mountains of North Carolina recently, and found that it’s extremely difficult to sit with long bouts of silence. We can do a few minutes, we can meditate and hold our prayer beads, but when it comes to hours and days of silence, of the raw reality that it’s us and the Divine Mystery, it is intimidating at first. It’s terrifying to be naked like that.
But then, if we dare to go, we find that we are really just there to heal from something, from all of the things that hold us bound to our own cycles of self-destruction.
If we dare to go, we can look at our lives with God, and find that healing is not only possible, but a beautifully close reality that we are invited into if we are only willing to say this is the hard stuff, and I’m going to go there and then find a way out.
Third, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in one another.
It seems, if we follow the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we’ve got these last two steps backward, but I believe that many of us struggle just as much (if not more) to actually love ourselves, and then it damages our ability to love one another.
This is where storytelling comes in. This is where community comes in. This is where truly breaking away from an individualist life comes in.
When we learn to see ourselves and our stories with clearer eyes, we take them to our community, to others who are struggling to learn their own stories, to fight against their own fears, to pick up their own hopes. We do this together, and we have our moments of “Me, too” or “I am listening” or “I had no idea it was like this for you.”
Compassion building and community building go hand in hand, and when we cut ourselves off from communion with others, we lose aspects of ourselves, aspects of Divine Mystery.
So, let’s keep talking about healing.
Let’s keep acknowledging that what is hard about life doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle, but a journey we walk together, hand in hand, arm in arm, steady, slow gait to steady, slow gait.
Let’s remember that we cannot heal the institutional brokenness of the world unless we learn to see that the world is sacred, that we are sacred, and that our call to love one another is a sacred call.
Maybe then, healing will come.
Maybe then, we can answer the question and say, “Yes, yes, our fire is burning and it will not go out.”
We hold hope and despair, one in each arm, and we cradle them close to our chest, because they both have something important to say at every moment.
— Glory Happening