Weeping and Wailing: a lament litany

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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.


Christmas Eve: don’t miss the beauty of the Before

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In America, and many parts of the entertainment world, people really like dramatic Before-and-After experiences.

We watch a home go from a hoarder’s filled mess to a dream home;

We watch the un-groomed man or woman become fashionable;

We watch a special nanny whip disrespectful kids into shape;

We praise the salvation experience– before we were heathens, now we are saved.

We love the drama.

We’re addicted to the adrenaline of the outcome.

Today is Christmas Eve, and if you’re a Christian like I am, we celebrate that today is a Before-and-After experience, too.

Before Jesus and After Jesus.

Before salvation and After salvation.

As much as the world ached for the Savior, we can’t forget that it was still a world in which God was present. Too often, we demonize what was Before, and we say that the After picture means true victory.

Sometimes, this is absolutely accurate.

But let’s not forget the life blood still pumping in the Before.

Let’s not forget the heart and soul of people struggling to be truly kind and good in the Before.

I’m reminded of America’s history here.

To the European colonizers who came to make something great out of this land, the After picture was the true pride and victory of what we now call the United States.

But remember, friends– what was here in the Before?

Groups of indigenous people, thriving on our land, tending to the earth.

We were still hurting people who sometimes fell into war and malice.

But we, as people of the Before, were still humans searching for and listing to the voice of the Creator.

Let’s remember that our opinions of the Before are not always accurate, and let’s trust that sometimes the After actually takes away our humanity, too.

So on Christmas, while God dwells in the After of Jesus, God always dwells in the Before, too.

As an Evangelical, I grew up, with my community, painting salvation stories really clearly– I was lost, now I’m found.

It’s the ultimate Before-and-After.

But lately, I’ve had to break myself free from that paradigm.

Because too often we begin, as people of the After, to demonize those of the Before. We belittle their existence and experiences, and in doing so, the grace of God to truly be with us–our Emmanuel.

So as you watch Before-and-After experiences unfold, remember that both may not always be what they seem.

After all, Jesus taught, as an adult, that his very presence exists in people you’d least expect– children, the poor, widows and orphans, the alien. They are people that the world pushes impatiently into transformation.

If he teaches that, maybe the Before experiences are worth paying attention to.

At my in-laws’ house on Christmas Eve, I’m watching snow fall and cover everything in its wake.

As I watch this tiny spot of the world transform into the After, I can’t help but look out and say a word of gratitude to the Before, to yesterday, to the snowless moments that prepared me for this very instant of awe.

Merry Christmas, friends.

May you find glory in the Before as well as the After, and in every space of transformation along the way.

 

WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT DEATH & LIFE

 

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My son brought a furry caterpillar home with him from our camping trip at the Wild Goose Festival. He found his new friend on our tent, and he named it Cali the caterpillar after one of his cousins. He played with it all morning as we prepared to leave North Carolina and head back to Georgia.

As we sat on the ground and listened to Frank Schaeffer speak in the closing session of the festival, Eliot showed that caterpillar to everyone around us, and when Frank was done speaking, Eliot ran up to him and introduced him as well. Frank put his hands on Eliot’s face and spoke a kind word of blessing over him, saw in him a love for all created things. He played with his caterpillar the whole drive home, watching it crawl around in a cup, on his leg, in the palm of his hand. He brought it home and put it in a bug container where it stayed all night.

But the next morning, we found him, and he’d died. His furriness was gone and he was tiny and broken looking. My son wept.

Later that day, we found out that a dog we’d owned years ago before gladly passing him onto someone else in our family had been put to sleep. We looked at the photo of Charlie and Eliot. We told stories about him, we laughed and we cried. We had a full day of memorializing his life with us.

 

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12Eighty-One Photography

 

Our husky, Sam, is also growing old. He’s slowed down dramatically over the last few weeks, and we can see it in his eyes–he’s holding on with us, but he’s tired. So we stroke his fur a little more gently now, we tell him he’s a good dog more often than not, and we cherish the moments we’ve got with him. But death is always in mind.

 

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Photo by Travis Curtice

 

The boys ask a lot of questions about life and death, a lot of questions about how people and creatures grow old, how health fails and bodies grow frail. As parents, we want to avoid these topics sometimes, but it’s better that we don’t. It’s better that we talk about it and process it so that when it comes, we know what it looks like and feels like, what it tastes like and sounds like. We need to know it with our human senses so that our souls can try to comprehend it.

Death is difficult and complicated and everyone experiences it in different ways. I reminded my five year old son that he had really wonderful moments with this caterpillar on the drive home and the morning he found him on our tent, and to hold on to those memories.

It may seem silly, but it’s a life lesson.

We make memories here and now with those around us, so that when they pass on, we have something to hold on to.

And sometimes, if we let it, death is a doorway into life, into becoming more of ourselves when someone we love leaves us. It is a way to mark our humanity, to mark our dust-to-dustness. 

And sometimes death comes in the close of one season and the opening of another, when one thing ends and another thing begins. Even there, death plays a part in our lives, helps usher us into a new space.

Last week I served my last Sunday as worship leader at the church we’ve called home for a few years. As I drove to the church one Sunday morning, God reminded me that faith is a kind of stretching, and that it’s often painful.

 

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Photo by Kristen Koger

But it’s death and life. As I leave some things that I’ve known for a while now to step into whatever is next on the horizon, I’m acknowledging life and death. I’m acknowledging that when we end, we also begin—steps into a new and unknown journey.

We talk all the time about how, as individuals, we live and die, so that we can be reborn again and again. Do we not allow that same gospel message to reach the church, and those outside the church as people trying to find our way to the kingdom of God?

What if death wasn’t something we feared, the journey ending to make space for a new beginning?

What if this era of the church is making way for a new era, something we don’t understand but something God has always seen on the horizon? Instead of fighting it, we get to embrace it and let it teach us.

If we acknowledge that death is natural, it doesn’t mean we’re saying it’s easy.

It’s hard. It’s really, really hard, and healing doesn’t always show up the way we want it to.

But the world has taught us from the beginning that life and death are what keep us going, and we can’t deny that it’s the journey we’re called to.

May we be kind to one another along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

PENTECOST: THE HOLY GHOST & NATIVE CEREMONY

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Potawatomi, Anishinaabe– “the people of the place of fire”

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, the only holidays on the liturgical calendar in my world were Christmas and Easter. I’d never heard of Lent or Advent, I wasn’t even aware that there were days and seasons throughout the year to commemorate different parts of the church’s life.

As an adult, I lead worship at a Cooperative Baptist Church that practices more liturgically than any of the churches I grew up in, and it’s become a part of my life to examine what Lent, Advent, Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, and other holy days and seasons are meant for.

Native culture is full of sacred seasons as well, and the more that I learn about indigenous ceremonies that my tribe and others commemorate throughout the year, I see connections between indigenous culture and biblical culture in a way that only increases my capacity for faith and the beautiful diversity of God.

We commemorate Pentecost Sunday the seventh Sunday after Easter, the day that the Holy Ghost fell on the people of the new testament church. But this church holiday has other meanings and names as well. Some connect it to Shavuoth, the Jewish celebration commemorating the time when God presented the Torah to the Jewish people, or Whitsunday, another name for Pentecost celebrated by churches in the UK and in Anglican and Methodist churches. Whitsunday is also connected to Beltane, a historic summer festival in Ireland and Scotland.

What connects these church holidays is not just that we remember the Holy Spirit coming alive in the people of our bible stories, but we see a thread of customs, celebration, and ceremony coming alive across cultural boundaries and histories.

Shavuoth, a two-day Jewish celebration, consists of pilgrimages, large feasts, eating dairy, and decorating homes, among other things.

To celebrate Whitsunday there are parades and festivals, and in some cases, commemorations of Beltane, which is often considered a “pagan” holiday but also a celebration of the coming of summer. In a Beltane ceremony, there are prayers and feasting, words of peace and togetherness, a lot like the Jewish celebration, a lot like our Baptist potluck dinners and laying on of hands to pray and embrace one another.

So you see, there is a sacred thread of ceremony throughout these holidays, and I see more and more a connection to the sacred ceremonies of Native peoples, not unlike the druid ceremonies practiced throughout history. Maybe the church calls it “liturgy,” the holy word for those things that others might call “ceremony.”

In the Christian faith tradition, sometimes we push aside the idea of ceremony, especially ceremonies that we deem to have some connection to “idolatry.” This created distance is riddled throughout our faith history, and in relationship to indigenous people, it is no secret that ceremonies and traditions were banned, and native peoples were punished or even killed for celebrations and festivals that were important to their spiritual life.

In the same way, the connection to druid “pagan” ceremonies gives this particular church holiday a chance to embrace a connection through the Spirit to creation and community, and to another culture. This is what I missed in the church growing up which was a tradition based on checklists and beliefs, not on practicing any sort of grounding work besides a daily quiet time and bible study. As an adult, I need to be tethered to God through ceremony, through commemorating the changing of the seasons and life cycles, through the church’s holy days and my own culture’s holy days.

We do not forget that we are to be people of ceremony, celebration, and festivity. Sometimes when we read the words of the New Testament about putting away the old laws, we also put away the ceremony and celebration of the Old Testament, pieces that perhaps were not meant to be thrown away at all. And throughout the transformation of Christianity over time, we tell other people that their ceremonies aren’t allowed, either.

At our church, we will wear red on Pentecost Sunday. Red may be the color that reminds us of Pentecost, of fire and flame, but because I seem to be learning what the bible means through a native lens, I wonder, then, what the red of Pentecost might mean for me, a Potawatomi woman whose tribe literally means “people of the place of fire.” Red, the color of the South on the Medicine Wheel, a tool used by Native Americans to understand life seasons. Red, the color of the earth, the color of summer, the color of youth and vigor.

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Ojibwe Resources

So I remember that on Pentecost Sunday, the Spirit of God came to earth, the fire of God called life out of and breathed life into the people. I remember that as summer comes, we see the Spirit all over this world in the things that bloom, in the hot summer sun, just like those worshippers in the Beltane festival do. And I see that the renewal, a youth-like newness comes with the Spirit’s voice, and we know that we are not alone.

And if we are not alone, then the goodness and all-inclusiveness of Jesus and the whoosh of the Spirit is alive and well in our ceremony—in our dancing, in our praying and smudging, in our fall fire ceremony when we welcome in the cool weather by keeping a fire lit for four days, in the naming ceremonies we use for our children. The Green Corn Ceremony, a time of harvesting corn and reconciling with our brothers and sisters, reminds us that the Spirit of God is alive and well in the people when we practice harmony and shalom toward one another. When Native ceremonies were outlawed by the church and the government, pieces of our cultures were stripped from us.

If the people of the new testament heard that day strangers speaking in their own native tongues, is that not a sign that the Spirit of God moves in us in our own native cultures as well? While the Spirit is something so other that we cannot fathom it, we are somehow comforted by the fact that we are accepted in its embrace, known in our own skin and understanding.

And when the church deprives itself the joy of embracing celebration, tradition and ceremony, it is stripped of something so needed in its identity.

The Spirit that fell that Sunday called the people into a unity, into a newness, into the light.

We are still called, all of us, in all our unique understandings, in all our cultural lenses.

That is the whole-beauty of Pentecost, WhitSunday, Shavuoth, Beltane, The Green Corn Ceremony, and so many others that celebrate God in relationship with people, with creation, with what has always been called good.

Happy Pentecost, friends.


{resources:

Druid Ceremony

Sun Dance Info

What Is Shavuoth?}

When We Pray For Dying Children

Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I got up to walk around the house for a few minutes before getting back into bed. I could hear the breathing rhythms of all four men in my house– my two boys, my husband, and our old husky who sleeps at the foot of the bed.

It’s been weighing heavily on me, news time and again that toddlers drown in a giant ocean, alone and afraid. They’ve left their homes with nothing but their families, and they die with those few things, and my mother-heart cannot comprehend that.

How do we pray for things we cannot possibly comprehend?

Sometimes prayer is tangible, words to heal body parts and minds and souls, questions that are particular and honest.

But other times, prayer is a mist, a cloud covering over something we couldn’t even hope to understand. That’s the kind of prayer I prayed last night and I pray today. It’s entering into something I don’t comprehend to ask questions I don’t know how to ask in hopes that the Spirit of God will know exactly what’s to be done.

I cannot cope with what is tangible about losing a baby to the ocean or to starvation, so I lean into Mystery, a presence that somehow knows and understands.

Yesterday when we visited the river, I walked along a canopied path alone for a few minutes. I found a black and blue dragonfly there, and she seemed to be playing with me. She’d flit from leaf to leaf, watching me watch her.

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She is a symbol of hope, a symbol of transformation, a symbol that reminds us that water is nearby, that we can drink and be taken care of, revived and refreshed.

I held that inside of me as I watched her, and then I walked back to my boys.

How can we hold hope and terror together in the same spaces? They’re beyond my comprehension, beyond my ability to grasp, and so prayers sound a lot more like unsteady breaths than strung out sentences.

But in my breathing, I hold those children and their mothers and fathers inside of me as best I can. Who says I am more alive than they are alive, more valuable than they have value?

Who says I am more capable of human emotions and beliefs than they are capable, more brave than they are brave?

These are waking-up prayers, prayers of rescuing myself out of my tunneled vision, out of my own nation, my own tribe, my own ability to understand grief.

So I lean into this praying, into that sense that we groan and the Spirit knows what’s happening anyway. We pray wordless prayers and God still knows what we hope for.

I still hope that the world can find transformation from war to peace, from fear to comfort, from individualistic living to communal.

I hold this as I pray, watch it slowly take shape over the years, watch it like I watched the dragonfly prance.

And I hold the words of Jesus over all those children, Jesus, who calmed storms and welcomed friends with words that undid every broken thing: “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with you. 

 

To My Sisters Who Mourn on Mother’s Day

Sister,

I wish you could have been with us in that room, four walls surrounding a Hannah Service to acknowledge the grief of children lost, never born, sometimes not even named. We gathered because someone said she did not want to leave you out of this Mother’s Day experience, because you may very well be more deeply affected by it than others.

Sister, I lamented with you, for you, because I have not known what it is like to lose a child, to lose a baby or a pregnancy, to struggle in this way. I cannot understand it, so I hold the silence with you and for you.

I was there to lead worship; I was there to sing a few songs about the faithfulness of God in seasons that are so raw.

Someone said, “I don’t want a hope that will make me deny my grief,” and I thought that so many people should hear this message.

It is universal. It would calm so many hearts and ease so much pain, just a little, if we were allowed to out-loud-grieve and wail and try to make sense of what doesn’t make sense– together.

I cried for you in that space. I grieved with you in ways I didn’t know how, but still, I tried.

We remembered Hannah, who was not afraid to come to God and demand to be heard. We remembered her courage, and I thought of you, of all of you who have been courageous.

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We lit candles to mark our lament. There were only a few of us, but we lit more candles than I’d imagined, because I realized there that you are hurting with more than one kind of hurt today. We counted our grief and I so wish I could sit with you and count yours, so that you know you are not alone.

We remembered how our grief burns like fire, how we carry heavy loads as women. So we demanded there that God hear us, and we turned to trusting that God does.

We had three strings to braid together to remember that grief, hope and trust are often intertwined in our lives. As I braided it, not for my own grief or loss, but for yours, I challenged the church to be better to you and for you.

I challenged myself to remember, to not forget, to hold silent space, to learn what it looks like to lament beside others who lament.

I prayed for everyone who may not know what it’s like to hold their own child, let alone two, like I do.

I thought of women in my life who have fostered and cared for children in their homes, who have tried to adopt and it has fallen through; I thought of you, how loss comes and comes again and it hurts.

We ended the evening with hope, but we asked what hope looks like.

Is hope the realized dream of a baby of your own?

Is hope finding that the pain hurts a little less?

Is hope that Mother’s Day will one day feel different than it does now?

We sang, “You make me new, you are making me new,” over and over again as a proclamation– not that we know the answer to what newness looks like, but that we trust in a waiting God who hears the lament, the cry of grief brought from the people.

This Mother’s Day, I pray that the church does better by you, sister.

I pray the church sees you, I pray that the church is quiet and humble enough to understand that we can’t possibly understand, but walk beside you.

Nevertheless, we are here.

You are not alone.

Daily my work is to try to make the church better, to see things she didn’t see before, to notice the things she’s been missing.

I believe the church has work to do to get closer to the call of Jesus, and wrapped up somewhere inside of this call is the challenge to better learn how to grieve with each other.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we believe politically or religiously, how our views of God are different.

We literally set it aside and we wade into grief together, unashamed, unafraid, to let it do its slow and steady work.

And along the way, we pray for hope and trust to settle in somewhere, to make a home among our grief, to commune with our grief so that we know that we are not alone.

This Mother’s Day, I’m leaning in with you, sister.

I’m holding space that I don’t understand toward a God who holds space far better than I ever could.

For you.

 

That Night at the Monastery

Last year I visited a monastery about an hour away from my city. I was there for a few nights for a staff retreat.

It’s one of those thin places, where you feel yourself go from outside into an unseen womb, a haven of silent meals and monk’s prayers. While the rest of the staff continued conversations in the “talking room” through mealtime, I sat with my friend Dilshad in the silent room and we ate in complete quiet. At one point, we looked at each other with tears in our eyes, and she grabbed my hand. It was all we needed to know that we’d found a sacred space in the quiet. We’d found a place that was going to show us something of God and bond us to one another.

That evening our group attended prayers and worship, a service in which the monks sang Psalms and other scriptures over us.

By the third song, I was weeping. I tried to stifle the noise, wiping my nose on my sleeve so as not to distract the other people from worship.

But I was so tired. 

Over the past six months, I’d begun deeply investing in the history of my ancestors and of native people in general, a long wound caused by the church– people using the name of Jesus to enslave, kill and force out indigenous men, women, children and elders, and to destroy the land they once lived on.

And it wasn’t a grief that I could leave at home or drop off at the front door of the church. It came with me, it sat inside of me, it processed its way into my faith and told me to ask the raw and difficult questions.

So I stood still in that gorgeous monastery cathedral where it was dark and candles were lit and monks were singing a benediction over us, a call into the presence of God, a call into living.

And while they sang, while I wept, I thought over and over to myself, “How could something so beautiful be used to kill so many people?”

Over and over and over,

I stared into human history, zooming in and out, people to people, culture to culture, human to human. I watched as the monks sang over me, as my ancestors sang over me–that piercing in my heart creating shallow breath in my lungs.

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A friend put his arm around my shoulder as we left, and I thought in that moment how grateful I am for a companion on the journey, but how difficult it is to describe something I mourn so deeply.

But I decided that I’d spend my days trying.

And every moment that gives me the opportunity to understand for myself what I grieve, and to bring that to the table of the church, I’ll do it.

And I’ll do it with a spirit of reconciliation, with a spirit of shalom, because I know that on the human life trajectory, though there is killing, though there is pain and death and brokenness, there is still Jesus.

And while Jesus is not the God of the American Church, he still calls the American Church to a new spirit of humility, to a new spirit of learning and re-learning what it means to honor anyone “other.”

For the first time in my life, my spirit feels “othered” and I haven’t been sure what to do with it, except to come here, to share my story, to look my people in the eyes, then to turn to the church and look my community in the eyes as well.

Because today, I have a responsibility to speak into my indigenous, Potawatomi heritage, into my relationship with Creator God and my ancestors, and an equal responsibility to teach the church why I am also a part of her.

So, Church, do you remember how to pray?

I need you to pray with me, to pray us into a new season of Church, into a new understanding of shalom, for the sake of all of us:

O Jesus,

In a world that revolves around life and death,

we hope and pray that we learn to understand the human lives that rest in between.

While we are here, we grieve and celebrate, we laugh and cry,

we journey in and out of appreciation for the life we’ve been given.

And in the in-between times, we are simply listening,

trying to understand what it means to know ourselves and to know you,

the one who carries the stories of the world and rests in the wilderness with the lonely,

the one who lays beside the dying and calls the broken into wholeness.

We simply hold onto your essence,

because it covers us and leads us both into ourselves

and into each other– into you.

May we journey the labyrinth,

the medicine wheel,

the life cycle,

the moment-by-moment call

to be a people who are both

spirit and breath,

both learned and learning,

both wandering and found.

Somehow,

you hold us there,

eternal love your salve,

the call of shalom your surgical tool.

You, Jesus,

are still the beautiful thing,

despite our attempts to

steal you and create you into something else.

Yes.

You, Jesus,

are still the beautiful thing.

Amen.

The City Siren Song & Journeying Back to the Land

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I need her– the land– though for a long time I’d forgotten why.

It seems the city lights and sounds, a siren song, called me into an alternate reality.

I stayed there for years, because I didn’t know better, and then she called to me again– the land.

I took my boys to the Indian mounds here in Georgia, where we climbed stairs up to a plateau of grass overlooking the landscape.

We could see factory smoke in the distance, but we could feel the pulse of an old earth beneath us– she remembers.

We sprinkled tobacco over a mound that was used as a gravesite, a place to bury all the people who died of European disease– nearly 90% of the tribe.

We sprinkled tobacco and we prayed, thinking of our own ancestors from a different tribe and a different place. Still, their stories come together and remind us that we belong to this history.

My boys watched as gravity took the thin brown strands from their palms, as the wilderness around them accepted their child-prayers.

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I grew up with New Mexico dirt, in poor neighborhoods where we didn’t really realize we were poor– we knew we were children with friends and roofs over our heads, and that’s all we needed to know.

As a preteen living in Missouri, my step-dad took me to American Eagle Outfitters for the first time, and I left with a brand new outfit, never before worn by someone else. I became someone different that day, someone who could see my own reflection in the storefront windows, among the racks of bulk-manufactured items.

 

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It was beautiful while it lasted.

But in living a loud life, I’d forgotten what it means to learn from the quiet, small voice of the land.

So as I get older, I long for the “tonic of wilderness,” as Thoreau called it.

I need the wind to remind me that the world is made up of rustling leaves and carried-away seeds.

I need the open fields to tell the story of the people who lived on the land long before I came here.

If we are to listen to the Creator, do we not also listen to the beauty that is created?

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And if we do not journey out of our cities, out past the boundaries, out into the unknown, we will not learn to truly embrace the long-standing Mystery that is gifted to us in creation.

We climbed the stairs of those mounds, we looked across the land, and we asked, for ourselves, what it means to belong.

We have friends who have a farm in Arkansas, and the moment I step across the threshold and into their house, I know it to be a place of peace.

We can see the horizon through the dining room widows, out past the back porch. We watch the horses run through their little field while lambs play across the fence.

They live in the land, and they practice listening.

As with many things, stepping away from the city life we know and into what we don’t gives us a chance to re-evaluate, to re-define, to re-examine. Shopping malls and chain restaurants can’t do that. They don’t understand or heal our ache. 

Remember those times Jesus stepped away from his city, from his friends, to meet God in the hillside or the wilderness? Even Jesus learned something in that quiet, learned from the breath of the earth and voice of the wind as it rushed by.

And so we are to learn something in these hillsides that surround us.

The stories are old, and the storytellers are wise, and if we humbly listen to them, we’ll learn our way, past the siren songs of our youth and into an understanding of the sacred-kept truth waiting for us in the wilderness.

Amen.

 

I AM WOMAN. HEAR ME MOURN.

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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.

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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.

 

 

DEAR SYRIA: the worst apology

 

Dear Syria,

I admit that growing up as an everyday American, I did not learn your history. I have to look online to educate myself, to learn the things I need to know to remember that you’re there and I am here.

But there’s another reality to all of this. Something I don’t need to search in google to understand.

You are a country made up of humans. Of mothers and daughters, of fathers and cousins and grandfathers and aunts.

You are a people full of life — joy and sorrow, human beings that experience sacredness in everyday moments. You are also a people who have had those moments ripped away from you.

I do not undersatnd the politics of any of this, of you and of us, of all the countries involved.

But what I do understand is that whatever we claim we are doing, it’s not enough.

I am paralyzed when I see your faces on my laptop screen.

I am disgusted with myself that all I know to do is give money to an organization that might have a few arms there by your side.

This. is. not. enough.

Where I might have some sort of apology, there is only lament.

Like the stories of my own indigenous ancestors, your stories are being swept under the giant rug of authoritarian politics and blame games, and it is everything but humane.

I could try to apologize, but these are the moments in which I claw at my own heart, scratching past the surfaces to try to summon up any sort of prayer to any sort of God who sees this as the tragedy that it is.

Because you are more than a news story, and therefore, our apologies are more than not enough.

I tend to light candles when there is tragedy or death.

I light a candle and I say a prayer. I burn sage and I remember.

But what do I do for all of your lives?

What do I do for all of the babies that could have been my own, had I been born on your shores?

My dear, dear Syria, we say that we have not forgotten, but sometimes we have.

We say that we are with you, but we aren’t.

We say that we will make amends, but we can’t.

We are simply here.

You are simply there.

So, what is left for me is the act of lament. Remembering that I began in ashes and to ashes I will return.

What is left is to seek a deep forgiveness from you and the God who sees you, a deep forgivenss from the very core of my being.

I have no loved you as I should love you, and I do not know how.

So I will attempt to lean into your pain in the knowledge that I cannot understand it, and I will lean into my own selfishness with the knowledge of its devastating reality.

I will practice empathy.

I will stop my day to remember you.

I will store up your stories in my memories so that I cannot say I didn’t know.

It will hurt.

As it should.

If only I begin the process of almost, maybe one day, coming closer to the apology that you deserve.

Today, though, that is simply not enough.