Let’s Talk About Healing

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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.

 

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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

 

DAY 5: To Those Who Belong[ed] to the Land

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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Have you ever wondered who used to live where you live?

Recently I attended a training for a group of teachers at a Waldorf school in my city. I was asked to begin the meeting by acknowledging who used to live on the land we now inhabit, and it kept coming back to me, more and more sure every time: the land does not belong to us, but we belong to her.

We are visitors on her shores, we are people who will come and go from her presence. While we are here, we are to care for her.

On Indigenous Peoples Day I challenged everyone in my social media circles to find out the history of the land they currently inhabit. I asked them to look up the people groups, the indigenous peoples who once lived there, to honor their memory, their presence, those ancestors.

I live on Muskogee Creek land, and we often go hiking near the rivers here in our city. I lay tobacco down on the water or by a towering pine tree and I thank whoever came before me. I thank God that I get to walk in the rich history of such a place, and I feel the pulse of the dirt beneath me telling its story, reminding me that many came before me and walked those same paths, stared into that same body of water.

It changes everything. It reminds us of how small we are. It reminds us that we belong to a long line of people, and it reminds us of our dark history, as well, of the times when those people were removed from their homes and pushed out to unknown places.

I challenge you today to find out who lived where you currently live. These are resources I’ve been given, and I’m so grateful we have things like the internet today to trace back time. Google can usually get you there.

First, watch this video. 

Now read, discover, learn, then head outside to the nearest patch of wilderness and let the land speak to you. It heals and tells stories that we cannot even begin to imagine.

You can even purchase a Tribal Nations Map here. 

And next time you’re hosting an event in your city, acknowledge that others came before you. Thank them. Remind the people you’re with that the land doesn’t belong to you, but that you belong to the land, that you get to rest with her for a little while. This is how we honor those who went before us.


 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, comes out in TWO DAYS! You can pre-order a copy today on Amazon or Paraclete Press, and head to the first chapter. It’s called Creation, and it tells stories about transformation, about finding the glory of God in the work of living and being present to a created world. I hope you’ll read my stories and prayers and find your own stories in them.

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Artwork by Suzanne Stovall Vinson

 

 

THE GRAVITY OF GOD: a prayer

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O Jesus,

Pull us into your gravity.

It is something that we cannot understand,

something we long to know

and experience,

to embrace with our senses.

Still, we see yet a glimpse of you,

a sliver of embrace that pulls us

constantly,

constantly,

closer

to you.

Your gravity is like that opening

at the top of the tipi,

that glimpse into a sky-bound reality

that we simply reach for,

yearn for,

tell stories of.

We long to see the stars

and know that you

always find us.

And when we are found,

as we always are,

your gravity

does not cause us to forget the world,

but it causes us

to sit still

in the busyness the world

and to love

in the hatred of the world.

Your gravity calls us both to ourselves

and to each other.

Your gravity calls us to you

and to every created thing,

a lament of what should be–

a celebration of what can be.

Your gravity is called Spirit

or Being

or Quiet

or Pause.

Your gravity

is Beauty embodied

and Shalom

in constant motion.

So pull us.

Usher us into a cosmic reality

that calls us good

and wishes better–

a better and better world.

O Gravity,

we long for you.

Beckon us, we pray.

Amen.

 

A MID-WEEK PRAYER: the spirit’s fruit

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O God, Gentle and Strong Mystery,

We rest our weary eyes on your horizon.

In the here-but-not-yet, we wait every day for your voice to pierce through our darkness.

And yet, our darkness teaches us how to use our senses to feel for you, to listen for your footsteps before us and behind.

O God, Gentle and Strong Mystery,

In the quiet of our homes we hope for new beginnings as the morning dawn illuminates our steaming coffee cups, as the evening calls us into the world of dreams.

And in our mid-week comings and goings, we simply ask to remain tethered to all those fruits of the Spirit we’re told, as children, will save us.

So we hope that love, joy and peace will calm our anxieties;

that kindness and goodness extend past our face-to-face interactions and into a volatile digital world;

that gentleness, faithfulness and self-control ask us to constantly become better versions of ourselves.

So if we eat this fruit, will we see you?

Will we understand that our struggles yield knowledge,

that tired bones heal,

that every blessing is meant to tether us more deeply to you?

Sometimes, we forget how small we are.

So today, we pray to remember that we’re still dust-to-dust, but dearly loved.

We’re still a part of the whole and not the grand picture, but asked to walk with purpose.

O God, Gentle and Strong Mystery,

You bear your image over us, and our journey is restored to your reality.

Restore it again and again, we pray.

Amen.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Day 15: Lent for my Mistakes

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When I was young, I gave myself tally marks for everything, a good mark when I’d done what I was supposed to, a bad mark if I’d strayed the path and given God grief in the process.

Some nights I’d lay in bed, worried about God’s heart toward me, writing in my journal every “I’m sorry for…” I could think of to get myself back in good standing again.

As an adult, it’s taken me years and years and years to understand who God is and what grace means, and I’m still not even close.

Who is God at the end of the day? What does He or She or It speak to us, and how does Jesus give us His presence, really?

When I was young, God sat on a mighty throne with a scowl on His face, and He threw fear out at me like lightning bolts,

spits of grief and shame and guilt like fire.

God was more like that preacher who stood at the front of my Baptist church and told to repent, repent, repent, beat yourself up until you’re bloody so you know what it’s like to sin, until you see yourself for what you really are.

Repent, repent, repent, so that you just might get into heaven, you just might look God in the eye and convince Him that you’ve finally earned an eternity in His presence.

That followed me day after day,

and still today, I fear those darts, I wait for punishment and hope for reward, and I really don’t find God in any of it.

No, God is there at the other end of the table, waiting with a meal in front of Him, asking me to come and eat and be still and listen and let Him tell me the stories again–

the stories of myself and of His kindness and of spirit-truths that I’ll never quite understand.

Somehow, I have to hold myself in a different position, a child that is loved and held and not looked at with judgmental eyes at every twist and turn.

I am still prone to mistakes, still full of questions, still less present than I’d like to be every single day.

But if Lent is about something, it’s about a path, about a journey toward a full wholeness, toward a moment of eternity, a miracle after 3 days in the dark.

So Lent takes me somewhere, and I must let it do its work, work that leads me back to God, the one who pulls me close and looks right in my eyes and says that Love covers every bit of who I once was, who I am today, and who I will ever be.

Amen.

 

Day 14: Lent for my Flesh

I listened to this podcast about a week ago, a conversation between Rob Bell and Celtic pastor J. Philip Newell.

If you’ve got 30 minutes, give it a listen and let it work something out in you.

I’ve been delving more into Native American spirituality, into Celtic spirituality, the way it draws us back around to ancient voices, and back to God in a new way.

I’ve been thinking about our spirits and our souls and what they mean to our flesh.

And I think that maybe there’s way more than what we’ve thought, a much deeper river that flows from God to us and back again.

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There’s this idea that the soul shines out through the body, and what we give to each other is this holy light– an aura, if you want to call that, and if you’re uncomfortable with that, call it something else.

Call it the handprint of God.

Call it the calling of holiness.

Call it your gifting,

your created presence,

the very essence that you give to this world.

I’m not sure our spirits are totally broken from our flesh, because I can feel the kind and good and full presence of God in the middle of a really hard day, and that is evidence that I am not and cannot do this on my own, within only a flesh body with no spirit.

No, I think that it all works together, this profound and holy and severely complex working that we cannot explain, even when we try to.

It’s something ancient, something spoken over and over from the beginning,

spoken into the blood and spit and heart and soul of every living thing.

So you and I, on this 14th day of Lent, we are living, breathing, fully alive creatures,

and our spirits are perhaps waiting to hear from us,

waiting to speak back to us,

waiting to lead us to that deep and full River that gives and gives and gives

until we don’t even know what it means to be full,

because we think we’ve never known anything but that fullness.

Hallelujah for those moments, when our flesh and our spirits align and we see that

God gives us everything we’ve ever needed.

 

Everything to Everyone: the micro and macro heart of God

 

Is it possible that God is just as macro as He is micro, just as infinite as He is closed-ended?

He is who He is– limitless– but transforms Himself to be who I need Him to be right now, today.

He may be mother and father and something totally other–

all things to all people.

He is not bound or restricted, held to our standard of what can be done and how many miracles are allowed–

no.

But He fulfills every need nonetheless,

sustains every heart and gives life where life is needed.

So how do we stretch ourselves?

Who do we become in our complete micro-ness, in our inability to be grand and mighty?

We pray, “Holy Spirit, fill my spaces and transform them into Kingdom.”

And something happens moment after moment, day after day.

Something shifts inside of us, and we are capable of more,

astounded by beauty,

lifted in spirit

to those high places where we see the world through

a new, clearer lens.

If God can truly be just as micro as He is macro, that means our belonging to Him is fuller than it was yesterday,

and our posture before Him should be so much freer, calmer, lighter.

We can look up and out and around and say, I am taken care of,

and it is true from the tiniest frosted leaf to the grandest sunset at day’s end.

It is true from the working hours of the ant to the beaming smile of a great-grandmother.

It is true from the darkest corner of our hearts to the brightest hope that hope can bring.

My, how secure we are, indeed.

And so we pray,

For whatever today was, Spirit,

You were there,

circling in and out and around us.

We all come because of our need–

we all have holes that need filling,

wounds that need tended to.

And You meet us before we utter a word–

You meet us before our feet touch the ground at our bedside,

before the sun rests her rays on us through the window panes.

You meet us before we know that there is breath in our lungs

or a beating heart in our chests.

You are everything to everyone.

Oh, the goodness of You. 

Amen.

Remembering the Beginning: A Prayer for This Day and Age

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God of Universe-Work,

help us remember who we are.

Remind us again

how it was in the beginning,

how dirt and blood and water

formed us.

We are undignified,

humbly shackled

to this kind earth.

Remind us again who

we are.

Remind us that none of us

holds enough royal blood

to cast out a brother or

deny a sister.

Remind us that our charge is

every widow

and

every orphan.

And when those great days of politicking

and presidential racing

fully commence

in our corner of the universe,

keep the still, small voice louder in us.

Keep us tethered to a kinder sanity,

to a fuller love,

to a humbler breathing.

Draw our attention to the

iced-over ponds

and sparkling branches,

to the few birds still singing

and the moon who shows her face, even at mid-day.

Draw our attention back to the

dust,

blood

and

water

that once made us,

that makes us still,

human and tethered to this good earth,

tethered to the good in each other,

tethered to everything

that is in You.

Amen.

 

 

“…if only we let love do its slow, meandering work.” –Rachel Held Evans

 

The Hands That Hold the World

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I think a lot about God’s hands.

Sometimes when I pray, I picture these big palms and digits holding the world in orbit right there in the middle of black-night outer space.

I see wrinkles on those palms, each one a line of a story-

yours,

mine,

the lady next door,

the man you’ve never even known existed.

Maybe His fingernails are a little dirty because He’s constantly digging in our dirt.

I imagine how He holds us all, all these tiny earth-bound bodies with kingdom-souls.

His hands, they’re always steady.

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I’m not sure that there is much I can do to steady this world of ours.

There’s not much I can control.

I have the energy that I spend, the love I try to spread from my heart to someone else’s.

But God’s hands, they are vast. They are warm and mighty, and they hold a steady grip.

That’s what keeps the earth in orbit–

my Muslim sisters

and me,

my sons,

my gay and straight friends,

the prisoners on death row,

and the children of Beirut.

These are the hands that created gravity, that crafted orbit,

so that as we watch the clouds slowly pass by in the blue-rimmed sky,

we see that yet another day has dawned,

and a kingdom of otherworldly mercy steadily approaches us.

Amen.

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