The Broken Duality of Easter (and every day after)

 

“Resurrection” by Father John Giuliani

 

On Easter Sunday, I struggled.

I struggled to know the power of communion as I watched the woman across the room wearing a shirt with dream catchers and feathers all over it. I struggled with the reality of erasure, of oppression.

I struggled to understand the joy of the Easter story when a dear friend is in the hospital fighting for her life. We sing out “He is risen,” and my blood boils with cries of let her rise, too.

I know I must not be the only one who struggled to say, “Happy Easter” with a smile and a nod. I know I’m not the only doubter, the only one who is angry and overwhelmed with the stories of Jesus that just haven’t added up throughout the centuries.

For many of us, church holidays including Easter are confusing days.

For those of us who attend church, we enter in with people proclaiming, “He is risen!”

It’s as if then and there, we are supposed to say that there will not be pain on the earth ever again, because He is risen.

 

And yet, we know this not to be true.

Pain, oppression and hate walk among us and live in us. Those of us who carry intergenerational trauma know this well.

Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have been abused by people using power and greed to play God know this too well.

 

What if Easter isn’t just a celebration of joy and deep peace, but a reminder once again that things are not as they should be?

 

I imagine hope to have two lenses:

The lens of the daily, the lens of right now,

and the long-lasting lens of hope that keeps us going.

 

It’s like we are stretching our arms out to hold a rope that pulls from both ends, stretching our arms out praying for miracles. We hold the tension that surely Jesus held every day of his life.

Can we say that hope is here but there is still more hope to come?

Can we say shalom is here but isn’t fully arrived yet?

Can doubters gather with those who are sure?

Can mourners gather with those who have joy?

It must be so, or we do not participate fully in our humanity.

As my dear friend Tuhina has reminded me, multiple truths exist at once, and in order to destroy toxic duality, we sit in the tension.

We cook Easter meals and have Easter egg hunts and grieve that faith isn’t simple.

We see life and death intertwined and we cannot escape their realities.

Perhaps that’s as it should be.

Perhaps that’s the only way to practice our faith.

Perhaps honesty is the best, most painful journey.

 

Following Easter is Earth Day, a time to see and acknowledge, to remember that Segmekwe, Mother Earth, guides us, holds us, shows us the way to God.

We say Mno Waben, good morning. It is our promise that the sun will shine each day. It is a return to what we know, to sit with the earth, to listen.

Maybe the most simple thing is that seeds will become seedlings, and those seedlings will feed our souls and bellies.

Maybe the most simple thing is the actual gospel, and we are just longing for a Jesus that hasn’t been fed to us by empire, but the one who stood against it with his life, death, and resurrection.

Perhaps our always-longing and always-questioning will lead us to those seeds and that rest, and perhaps, today, that’s all we need.

 

 

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

 –Frederick Buechner  

 

 

Love Letter to the Lonely

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Friend,

I’ve been thinking about you today. I’m thinking about all the ways we get things wrong on this earth, in this country.

I’m thinking about all the different forms oppression can take.

I’m thinking about the reality that we’ve created a social environment in the United States (and in other countries) that doesn’t lend grace and compassion well.

We criticize each other’s weakness. We berate one another’s stories and experiences.

I’m thinking about mental health and self-care. I’m thinking about the work of listening to the needs of the soul.


What does it mean to be lonely?

I’ve heard so many times the phrase “we are lonely, but not alone.”

But it’s okay to feel alone, right?

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Depression, anxiety or any host of feelings are not sources of shame, though we shame one another for experiencing them.

We shame one another for going to therapy, for taking medications, for admitting that we are tired. We forget our humanity for a moment. We forget what it looks like to hold one another. We forget that self-care is not laziness.

And we forget that the voice of Love is everything.

And our work right now is to break the chains of shame for ourselves and for one another.


Friend, I want you to know that loneliness is not a sin or human flaw.

It also isn’t just a lie that we believe, because loneliness is real. We see it in ourselves and in others everyday, in every work environment, in every community, on every street corner.

So what if we thought of every space as an opportunity to commune?

What if our digital and physical spaces were considered sacred, just as everyone who inhabits them is sacred?

What if we live in such a way that even our online interactions create space without reducing one anther to labels of weakness or unworthiness?

What if we learn to tell ourselves that we are worthy of love?


Recently in a therapy session, I tried to explain the constant tension I walk as a woman who is Potawatomi and white, Christian but not colonized, American but also indigenous.

I feel like I am never fully one thing or another.

And while it’s lonely, the more I share my story, the more people I find who feel the same way, who are fractured, who are trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t accept some part of who they are.

Then I remember something.

I remember the stories of Jesus, a man who seemed to be lonely a lot.

He went to quiet places. He had some close friends, but he still struggled.

“Will they ever understand?” he quietly prayed.

“Can this cup be taken away? I’m tired.”


Many of the world’s greatest leaders admit to loneliness. And in those spaces, a lot of soul care is required to remember what it means to be a leader, what it means to carry compassion and empathy as a model for others.

But what about us? What about our daily lives? What about those moments when we are too weary to do the work?

Friend, I want you to know that I’m not expecting anything from you, but to learn to love yourself and then work on the empathy and compassion that fuels you to love the world.

This is not strictly linear work, but cyclical, seasonal, an ebb and flow that doesn’t always make sense.


If you grew up in a religious or social environment that wanted rule following over love of self, you know that even as an adult it’s hard to unlearn those thought and heart patterns. I’m still working, and I bet you are, too.

But it’s possible. And it’s not selfish.

So we re-wire the way we think about ourselves. And over time, we re-wire the way we think of others.

But it doesn’t mean that loneliness isn’t a constant companion. It means that while loneliness is there with us, we are still called.

We still have important things to contribute to our communities, to our families, to the world. We still have good work to do, and that work is connected to resting in the faithfulness of this earth that we get to inhabit.

Maybe the trees can remind us that we are loved and valued.

Maybe the bird on the windowsill or the constant rising and falling tide can tell us that the world wants to continue her work because we are a part of it.

Maybe then, we’re not quite as lonely as we think.

Maybe creation meets us in our loneliness and whispers I'm still here, after all these years. And maybe the fact that we all feel loneliness in a spectrum of ways means that loneliness is universal.

Until then, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re not so alone, after all, and neither am I.

All my love,

Kait 


Remember, your pain isn’t wrong or a weakness. If you’re lonely and need to talk to someone, there are people available to you.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Call 1-800-273-8255
For LGBTQ:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq/
For Youth:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/
For Loss Survivors:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/loss-survivors/
For the Native American community:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/native-americans/
For Veterans:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/veterans/
For Deaf/Hard of Hearing:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/for-deaf-hard-of-hearing/

 

Grief Has a Voice (Are You Listening?)

Untitled design-12.png

 

At the worst of times, in the worst of places, we hear the whisper.

“There’s something more to this,” it says.

“Lean in,” it implores.

We aren’t often told that the Holy Spirit and Grief are partners.

Mostly, we’re taught a narrative that they oppose one another, that we should trust the Spirit but keep the words of Grief far, far from our hearts, because she will surely tell us something we don’t want to hear. She will surely break us and we won’t know how to put it back together again.

But if we imagine Grief and the Spirit as partners, the voice of God takes on human flesh all over again, for Jesus's life was full of grieving.

He grieved as he left home, when his days of carpentry were over.

He grieved when he moved through the wilderness and into his calling.

He grieved from Gethsemane.

It taught him who he was.

And every season of shedding a piece of his identity only to take on a purer one required the work of Grief– holy work, indeed.

We are people who numb, fix, and manipulate pain.

But Grief has something important to say, whether we want to hear it or not.

I suggest we try.

Because when we realize that we are not the only ones who are grieving– that all of humanity grieves, individually and collectively– we understand how the Spirit works.

The Spirit, birthed from Jesus himself as a gift to us, leads us out of isolation and toward one another.

And when we get there, it doesn’t mean that Grief’s work is done, that we’ve arrived at a place of joy, with no more sadness or sorrow.

It means that we continue listening to what Grief has to say, and we do it together.

She teaches us to care for our enemies.

She teaches us to forgive.

She teaches us to let God mend our hearts.

She leads us out of racism, sexism, greed, bigotry, and idolatry.

She calls us toward wholeness, if we only let her do the work.

And the Spirit holds her hand along the way.

So my friend, next time you hear Grief whispering for you, pay attention.

She is a gift in a form we don’t always understand.

But her voice is universal.

We are a nation grieving.

We live on an earth that grieves.

We go to church and synagogue and temple with grieving people.

We share sidewalks and cubicles and turning lanes with others who grieve.

That’s why Shalom’s work is not yet done.

And for all the distortions of peace that come with our bodies and souls, Grief and Shalom are partners, too, teaching us that community always works alongside the moving parts of everyone.

And we’ve got to work through the pain to get to the other side.

“First the pain, then the rising.”

–Glennon Doyle Melton

So may we lean in.

May we listen.

May we grieve.

And may we journey toward Shalom together.

 

Amen.

Weeping and Wailing: a lament litany

Untitled design-9.png

Maybe the stars went black that day because there was nothing else to get their attention, the people gathered around the crosses with dice in their hands and grins on their mouths, a few others hiding, stopping to stifle their quiet sobs.

After all, thieves hung on crosses every day, proclamations of miracles and resurrection on their lips now and again.

Maybe the stars went black because the sound of the nail through skin made them, finally, too tired to shine.

Maybe they just closed their eyes for a minute to weep, while the thunderclouds wailed around them.

Maybe then it only lasted a few moments, but maybe every night while we sleep, the stars go black for a second, and the thunderclouds rumble a low lament– a weep and a wail lasting centuries in this world.


 

Weeping and Wailing.

For every innocent body executed by the state—

Weeping and Wailing.

For every murdered indigenous person whose killer goes free–

Weeping and Wailing.

For every abused child–

Weeping and Wailing.

For the poor, who are told to pull themselves up or else–

Weeping and Wailing.

For young women, who believe their voices don’t matter in the church–

Weeping and Wailing.

For the tired widows–

Weeping and Wailing.

For young men incarcerated and abused by the system–

Weeping and Wailing. 

For the descendants of the oppressed, who live generational trauma in their bones–

Weeping and Wailing.

For the Empires, who for centuries have oppressed in God’s name–

Weeping and Wailing.

For too many tombs filled with those killed by police brutality–

Weeping and Wailing.

For institutional sins of ableism, sexism, religious bigotry, toxic masculinity, white supremacy and racism–

Weeping and Wailing. 

For a world that has been abused herself, beaten year after year because we say that we are called to “subdue” her–

Weeping and Wailing. 


 

The stars went black because they had no other choice.

Because if the world went black for a moment or two, maybe the people would gather to one another and make peace.

Maybe they would remember that they belong to each other and the world they inhabit, there in the darkness, there with the thunder calling their names.

Maybe the darkness puts us in the tomb, too.

Maybe we go there to weep and wail ourselves, for injustice, a longing to be whole again.

Weeping and Wailing.

Weeping and Wailing.

Weeping and Wailing.

Until the stars shine on us again.


Let’s Talk About Healing

Untitled design-8

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.

 

29066650_10157345013393902_1248312242919702528_n

 

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

 

Deconstructing American Christian Worship

Untitled design-4.png

 

I’ve been tired during church lately.

If you’re someone attempting to deconstruct or decolonize your faith like I am, you might feel it, too.

As a Potawatomi woman, I am suddenly going over every word of every song, every word of every sermon, asking if those words are inclusive of my own culture within the views of the American church.

And so we show up at church, asking all the questions, making all the critiques we can, because these things matter.

And we end up leaving exhausted because the church has not yet understood that Jesus really was a poor, brown carpenter and still has something to say to us today. I’m exhausted that I don’t yet understand that in my own skin.

And we end up leaving exhausted because we have to hold our own culture’s truths and tensions with the gospel, and also hold all these cultural, racial, belief-based tensions with one another.

As a worship leader, I pay attention to the room during worship.

I listen to the voices in unison.

I wonder where people are coming from when they sing words like, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”

And as I am analyzing these things and trying to worship through my own experiences, I come back to this idea of nakedness.

Theresa ofAvila says it like this:

You find God in yourself and yourself in God.

 

To know the true mirror image of God is to know ourselves fully, as we are fully known.

And that means that while we stay tethered to and learn from and engage with our cultural lenses, we also zoom into our souls, into that naked place, to that deepest part of who we are to embrace Mystery, without analyzing any of it.

We embrace Mystery without analyzing any of it. 

This means that we even have to allow ourselves to step out of the mindset that worship should look, feel and seem a certain way.

To embrace Mystery is to recognize that worship is something fully beyond us that we step into and participate in, and not just in a church building full of people.

One of the most worshipful experiences I had recently was while I was staying at an AirBNB in the Blue Ridge mountains. I took an early evening walk, mittens on and a cup of coffee in my hand. As I turned the corner, I watched  a family of deer run across the street and up into the woods on the other side. Before they disappeared, one of them stopped, turned around, and stared at me for a few seconds.

Sometimes worship happens as a rootedness that we do not expect or even think we deserve.

The mirror image of myself in that deer was nothing but worship, a moment to recognize my own sense of belonging in this world. In the space, beyond my culture, beyond the fact that I am a Potawatomi woman, that I am a mother and wife and worship leader and writer and friend, I was simply one soul looking at the soul of another creature.

We were simply acknowledging one another, and in that, acknowledging Mystery, without analyzing any of it. 

So we erase the lines that make rules to tell us when and how to worship. We expand our thinking outside the walls of the church and realize that “occasionally it is not the open air or the church that we desire, but both” (John Philip Newell).

And this is difficult when you’re on church staff, when you’re trying to figure out how to run a church with various cultures, to honor diversity, to honor the life of Jesus. I get that. But leading others in worship means we lead them out of themselves, and we also lead them out of the mindset that worship must look the way the American church thinks it should look.

And soon we find that deconstructing our worship patterns is actually a return back to that nakedness, to that mirror image between us and God, between us and the world, between my own culture and yours.

And then we find that worship has done its work, because the glory of God happens when this created world is fully alive to beauty, to love, to all of those things that we have such a hard time finding because we are so constantly trying to analyze the questions and critiques as they come to us every week in church.

Because of and despite our questions and critiques, the Mystery is still there, still engaging, still asking us to look and respond, to be present with every aspect of ourselves, to the honor and glory of God.

Amen.

 

When The Good Things Become Visible

IMG_7490

Mno waben. Mno waben.

I held my three year old son in the early morning light,  held him in the middle of my room as he stumbled in after waking up from his night of rest.

We are learning our language, the language of the Potawatomi people, words that were carried for centuries by word of mouth and then put down on paper in a readable and writable language.

The words carry so much in themselves. The stories, the imagery, the use of body language to tell the tale– this is how the world has worked for centuries.

We continue the tradition today.

It will take a good long while to be comfortable in speaking the Potawatomi language. We sit down at the computer and we recite the words again and again, hoping they stick.

We aren’t quite learning through immersion, but we’re trying to immerse ourselves, anyway. So in the mornings, I try to say mno waben, good morning to both of my boys.

Mno waben. 

Literally, it means that good time when things become visible.

So I wake with my sons and we proclaim that it is good for things to come into the light. It is good for our lives to become visible to the light of day.

We spend so much of our time running.

We run because we don’t know how to slow down.

We run from our pain, our worries, our sorrows.

We run from the things that make us uncomfortable.

We run from intimacy, from vulnerability.

Sometimes we run from God.

FullSizeRender 23.jpg

But in the morning, we wake to find that things are made visible– and it is good.

It is good that we lay our souls bare to the light.

It is good that we say hello to another dawn.

It is good that we journey into an awareness that we are not alone, and therefore, we are invited to know ourselves, to know each other, to know God, to know this world that we inhabit.

What if, when we wake in the morning, we call each other into the light? What if we beckon each other into a kind of living that says, you are good, and it is good to become visible, to become known, to be seen.

I think our days would fall into place a little differently.

I think our interactions with each other would be a little gentler.

I think the way we see ourselves would become a little clearer,

and maybe, just maybe, we’d finally stop running.

We’d embrace the light.

We’d lay ourselves bare at the dawn of the day, and carry the light of a benevolent world into our every encounter.

Mno waben, friends. 

Go now into the visible light.

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid If God Is Not What You Expected

When we are young, we are taught to believe certain things about God— about what we can see, feel, understand.

When, in fact, God is beyond our senses or our understanding.

The church has been set up as an institution to hold those beliefs for us, to guide us in understanding them, but not always in questioning them.

 

So what happens when we find out that God is not what we expected?

We find that the world is far from what we believed it is, a world diverse in its expressions of God.

FullSizeRender 19.jpg

The first time I went kayaking, it was on a small lake, covered in lily pads.

I was there in the quiet, and the most amazing part was that I’d never seen a lily pad up close before.

How could I have missed, for twenty six years, such a beautiful aspect of creation– of God?

The first time I cooked a meal with our Muslim friend in my tiny kitchen and she took off her head covering in my presence, I thought how could I have gone my entire life without knowing intimate moments like these?

In growing my first full garden, I realized that I could have spent my life not tending to something so beautiful and tender as a garden bed of vegetables waiting to be harvested.

What then, are we missing in our lives? What gets in our way of an existence fully lived with God?

The church is, again, at a crossroads, a battle to determine who we are– and who Jesus is.

Many are uncomfortable with the uneasiness, with the change, with the unknown.

How could God be something other than what we've learned all these years?

The problem with that question is that we are not the first to learn the ways of God.

And we are not the only ones who are learning.

That means that in all facets of the human condition, God is experienced in this world.

Who-- or what, then, is God? God is anything and everything.

FullSizeRender 20.jpg

 

God is the good– not our earthly or moral good, but some other Good that encompasses all goodness.

God is in you, me, him, her, creation– some pieces of us, our human, sacred parts.

And the truth is, we hold a healthy amount of fear in the things we do not know– in the adventures, on the journey, into the Mystery that is life and God.

But the church sometimes pulls us into an unhealthy fear, fear that threatens what the institutions have always deemed to be true.

But that healthy fear– that kind of fearful expectation mixed with the joy I felt when I saw those lily pads– that opened me up to God, to myself, to creation, to the world.

Just as we should not be afraid of God, we should not have to be afraid of expressions of God, the church, the ways we see God manifested in our lives, even in ways we cannot understand.

If we deny ourselves the gifts of God, we will miss something. 

And if we miss something here and now, we are actually missing pieces of the kingdom, friends.

We are missing it.

And any hope of adventure, of this journey tethered close to something sacred and Mysterious, falls flat or gets destroyed by the belief systems we clung so closely to for dear life.

I know, because I was there. I was there a few years ago, when the things I’d learned as a child were suddenly challenged in every capacity, and I had to make a decision. What kind of journey was I going to take with God, and how would I encounter this world along the way?

And I continue to ask.

The important part is the asking– the thing we aren’t always taught to do in the church.

And I pray that we actually find that God is nothing like we expected in that other-kind-of-Goodness that can only be Mystery.

I pray that we find ourselves there.

And in that, we find that everything is just as it should be, adventurous joy abounding.

Amen.

JESUS & US: a shared wilderness

Mark 1:4-12

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[d] with you I am well pleased.”

The Temptation of Jesus

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

18221597_10156239064063902_1023123988247145297_n.jpg

After Jesus was baptized, he was sent out to spend time in the wilderness. Over the years we’ve examined different ideas for why we think he spent time there, why it was necessary, but what we know is that the wilderness experience was the beginning of a new season in Jesus’s life.

We were sitting in church talking about this passage, and I was growing weary within a few minutes of the conversation, trying to understand what all of this could have meant in an indigenous perspective and not an American or western one. It’s new for me to look through this lens at the stories I heard all through childhood, but it’s a challenge I enjoy if I have the time to make connections in Jesus’s life to my own indigenous identity. And in that space, in a conversation about baptism and wilderness experiences, I did.

In some Native communities, young men are sometimes called to go out into the wilderness to receive their life’s calling. Sometimes an elder might accompany them, oftentimes they go alone. They enter the wilderness because they know that on the other side they will come out a new version of themselves.

Kavasch and Baar in their book, American Indian Healing Arts, put it like this:

Endurance training and spending nights camping out alone with little or no food help to prepare each youth for the rigors of his spiritual journey. As the time for the quest approaches, rituals of purification, such as fasting and smudging– the burning of one or more sacred substances and bathing in their smoke– take place, accompanied by special prayers.

Then the boy goes off by himself to seek a vision. He spends four or five days and nights fasting, alone with his thoughts, on a windswept butte or within a shallow pit. He learns to deal with fear and find out about his own personal strengths. Each boy also looks for power and meaning in the natural world. The vision quest frequently brings on life-changing visions and dreams that provide glimpses into mystical and spiritual realms beyond his ordinary experiences.

A vision quest draws a person deeper inside himself and at the same time allows him to look at himself from outside. So much does a person learn in the process that in many tribes it is thought to be essential to the proper evolution of a healthy life path. Pete Catches, a noted Lakota medicine man, once said, ‘I do believe every young Indian, about high school age, should do a hanblecheyapi (vision quest) to get direction in life, to know what life is all about.’

I grew up being taught a very negative side of Jesus in the wilderness, when Satan came to him and tried to destroy him and ruin his life calling before it was about to start.

But now, I see something different. I see a kind of communion with the wilderness that taught Jesus about himself, that prepared him for his coming ministry and journey. We cannot know what kind of conversations happened in that quiet, but I can imagine there were a lot of thoughts coming in and out of Jesus’s existence. And in his struggle with spirits– evil and good, past and present– he found himself, his voice, and his own spiritual journey unfolding.

tumblr_n24vckDHzX1qfvq9bo1_1280.jpg
CHRIST IN THE WILDERNESS by British Artist Stanley Spencer

Just as the youth cleanses himself before he enters the wilderness, Jesus cleansed himself– in baptism– and entered into his own wilderness experience. Do you see the sacred connection here?

What if part of Jesus’ experience of the Holy Spirit came in the wilderness, in the place that wasn’t expected?

This is what I see in the wilderness experience of Jesus: a time of calling in the midst of what were often, I’m sure, difficult conditions. Still, he listened. He quieted himself, engaged with the voices and energies around him, asked questions of the world he’d entered into, and received visions and dreams of his future.

You may be in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean it’s an empty wilderness.

Glory is still found there. Sacredness, even when it’s uncomfortable, even if you’re alone, even if you’re a little afraid.

A wilderness sometimes still has voices and wind, sun and shade, flowing water.

And many cultures probably have similar practices to this, but growing up in the southern baptist church, I completely skipped over the wilderness experience of Jesus, because it only had negative connotations. Instead, in some denomination contexts, we are skipping over a beautiful and pivotal time of Jesus’s life: his purification and vision quest– his sending out experience.

So, let’s look at our own wilderness experiences differently. If you are in the middle of your wilderness now, look for what it teaches you. Let the wilderness speak to you, let the lone quiet, perhaps the lonely quiet, breathe something back over you.

And the truth of it is that it is often painful, there are surprises we’re not prepared for, quiet that is too quiet. But instead of running from that pain, lean into it.

Let yourself listen.

Do not hush the wilderness.

Do not rush the learning and the listening, the ending or the beginning, the birth or the re-birth.

Let the wilderness song sink into your bones, let your dreams of the future guide you out and back to a busy and waiting world, ready to welcome you.

And not forget what the wilderness taught you, for it may very well be your namesake.

It may very well be your calling.

Just as Jesus began in his wilderness, so maybe you must begin again in yours.

Let's take a moment to reflect on this day.png

I AM WOMAN. HEAR ME MOURN.

IMG_6035

It is no secret that as women, we carry our babies for nine months. We create and nurture and grow life in a womb of water until birth, when we care for them as our newborns and on into childhood.

Some of us, who cannot have children, care for and love the children that are in our lives, the children that become a part of us, whether it’s through a bloodline or not.

Some of us have lost our babies, or we’ve given up children, or we’ve carried some other kind of motherly burden. Some of us have been abandoned by or lost our own mothers, and it bears heavy on us throughout our lives.

We are made to carry heavy loads, and today, we are out-loud-mourning.

Sunday is Easter, and while I’m aware that to many people in this world that is just another Sunday, I gravitate toward the life of Jesus as he speaks into the world we inhabit at this moment in time.

And I think about the woman who bore him.

I think about Mary, who knew from before his birth that Jesus would live an extraordinary life, one that might prove to be difficult. She carried the weight of love for her son, who was also called to be so much more than that.

She watched that son that she bore and carried in her arms and cooked with in her kitchen. She watched him drag a cross through the city and watched as he was nailed to it. She watched as he sighed his last sigh, his last prayer wafted to every corner of heaven around them.

She bore the weight. She mourned.

In the last year, we’ve seen care for the earth and the conversation of climate control come to the surface yet again in our communities, in our nation, in our world. Indigenous peoples’ voices have been heard as we proclaim that it is our honor and sacred duty to care for Mother Earth– her spirit as our very life.

So, I think about the women of Standing Rock, the young woman who began the march for her people, the young woman who said that it was enough, too many indigenous people dying, too many giving up. So they stood and they prayed and they sang for clean water, begging and teaching the world that care for Mother Earth is the greatest honor. And a heavy weight. 

I think of the woman who gave birth in that camp, who named her daughter Mni Wiconi, meaning Water is Life. She says in the video, “I firmly believe our men need our women to stand up and be strong.”

And part of that strength is our ability to speak out of our brokenness.

We share the things we carry. We lament and mourn, and we make way for future generations to do the same.

As women, we carry our mourning, because our bodies and our souls have been taught to carry the lives inside and around us.

We mourn in a world that feels heavy today.

IMG_6395

In the last few months of the presidential election and beginning of Trump’s time in office, I’ve seen women torn from one another in battles over who they voted for and what sect of Christianity teaches them to believe in a certain way.

And I’ve seen other women who quietly hold their faith close to their chest, the ones who are steady and strong, the ones who know that there is life outside of this, outside of our fights and our tantrums.

As women, we carry our churches and our faith places, because we care for the people. We hold them inside our hearts, we work toward wholeness and we pray.

Glennon Doyle Melton recently said in a speech, “The generals of justice have always been and will always be the women of color.”

She pointed out to a room full of mostly white women that to do what is right and needs to be done, the best course of action is to see what women of color have been carrying for centuries and follow them.

This is Sojourner Truth.

This is Maya Angelou.

This is Mary Magdalene.

This is Cleopatra.

This is Hildegard of Bingen.

Her words moved me, because in recent months, I’ve been given a platform for my own voice– for my voice of color, for my voice as a woman. I can speak what I believe and I can call you to meet me here in this space.

But many women do not have that opportunity.

So I mourn that we are not there yet.

I mourn for a world that does not recognize the voices of the women as they should be recognized.

I mourn for the fights that happen over the body of a female, over having choices for what that body should look like and act like and seem like.

I mourn for young indigenous women who disappear, who are raped and attacked because of their culture and skin.

I mourn for the women around the world who have lost their children to war, to starvation, to lack of attention from countries like ours that could have done something better.

I mourn because I am a woman.

I mourn because I carry the world.

I mourn because the rivers run with oil and our children are afraid of the places where they live.

I mourn that we do not understand Jesus as a kind and gentle healer who seems to still turn this world upside down.

I mourn that we do not appreciate the hard and steady work of slowing down and listening.

I mourn.

And yet, I hold myself steady in the reality that I live in the beautiful lineage of all the women who came before me and fought in their mourning.

I live in the long-time shadow of my ancestors, those women who walked the Trail of Death and did not give up along the way; those women who nursed their babies without stopping to rest and who built a life out of nothing.

I live to honor the lives of the women who have placed their trust in me, who have shared their stories with me in hopes that together we build a better future for ourselves and for our children.

For those women, I mourn that we are not there yet, but I hope that one day we will be.