LEARNING TO BREATHE IN THE WORLD

When we got home from an afternoon at the pool, my oldest son took a nap. While he was sleeping I crept in to lay down beside him for a few minutes. I looked at his fresh haircut and his eyelashes, listening as he quietly breathed in and out.

For a minute, I synced my breathing with his– in, out, in, out, in— and watched as he slept, dreaming of brighter and brighter tomorrows.

I am often asked how I do this–how I write and parent and manage work and family and joy and sorrow in all places.

What I’ve realized is that when I do something that I am passionate about, something that has ripple effects out in the world and connects me to humanity and to God, it is directly tied to the way I parent my children.

What I write is affected by my relationship with them, mostly by what they teach me about myself and about being a better person every day. So when I synced my breath with his, I thought about how we are tied to one another, connected to one another, a team in the things we set out to do in this world.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still his mother, still his parent, still someone who should guide and lead him, but it does mean that what I care passionately about I share with him, and what he thinks is important, he shares with me.

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So how can I teach him to sync his breathing to the world? As a five year old, seven year old, fifteen year old, fifty year old? What can I do for him to understand that the way he moves and breathes and has his being is meant to be of use and impact every place he inhabits?

What does it mean to work and live with the pace of the world, and not just our experience of it? What does it mean to live into a reality that our way is not the only way, that our story is not the only story?

Our children, when they are young, before we teach them otherwise, have an innate curiosity to know things, to dream things, to imagine things.

While they are still young, they seek to understand how things work, why the world is big but looks so small on a map, what it means to be human.

Is it possible that as adults we can re-learn those things from the little ones who make those curious thoughts their reality?

Absolutely.

So in watching the way he engages the world, I learn how to engage the world. When I listen to his dreams, I am listening to the dreams of God, a vision for all of creation to be restored to and known in its original beauty.

When I sat still enough to breathe in and out with my son, I felt the whole world breathing. I felt faces and names, places and stories come alive to me in a way they never have before, and with that, the love of God spread itself out across everything, this beautiful and deep root system that gives life to everything under the sun.

We read things about breathing in Jewish stories– the name of God, Yahweh, meaning simply breath, simply being alive to the reality of the Creator. As my friend Bob shares in a post about Breath Prayer, our spirits are intermingled with our breathing.   

That means that when we practice breathing with the world and with our own spirits, we align ourselves with the things God.

In Native American culture, breath and stillness are important parts of daily life, because with quiet breathing comes steady listening– to the world around us, to ourselves, to the voice of God. When I am still enough to notice the ant on the ground, or the birds chirping at sunset, I enter into the practice of coming more fully alive.

When I light sage and let it cleanse the space around me, or lay tobacco on the ground as I pray to Mamogosnan, the Creator, the good Father, my breathing interacts with that sacred space and I meet God in the quiet. I meet God in the world. 

Maybe this is why I hear so many parents talk about why they love watching their children sleep– the deepest peace settling over them, the deepest quiet, a vision of humanity at rest in shalom.

We know that after hard work comes rest, and after something momentous happens in our lives we have a catharsis–a moment to stop and quiet ourselves, to process, to breathe. 

The steady breathing afterward is just as important as the hard work beforehand. The world teaches us this in its changing seasons, in its cultivation and evolution, in its growing and steadying.

So next time I go to sleep, I’ll remember that in those moments before my mind slows and enters into a dream world, I am communing with God, with creation, with the world in the call of Yahweh.

And when we wake again to the dawn, we stop and breathe. We look out the window and listen to the steady in and out that gave life to us in our very first moments.

And we know that it is good to be alive and breathing in this sacredly created world.

Amen.

 

 

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.

Advent 2016: hope, grief, and Jesus unimagined

Years and years ago, advent came as a long season, generations of waiting and hoping for someone to rescue and repair brokenness.

But in those long and hard years, I imagine there was some anger and some grief, a little hope lost along the way but still held onto in the end.

This Advent feels different for me, as I watch the world, even the world of the church I’ve always known, show itself through different hues. I take the stories I’ve learned as a child mixed with the beautiful stories of my ancestors and other indigenous, stories of who Jesus has always been.

So I see the trajectory of the Christ-child, but the one who is for all people in all places, and not just the one we’ve revered in the white western church.

And I feel the dissonance of our political climate, something I know is foreign to the hope I hold.

So this Advent, I need Jesus to be everything that he is and nothing that I’ve always imagined him to be.

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The miracle of Christ is that he was born once and died once only to live again, and in his living there is always new grace, fresh shalom, a constant journeying into the spirit and heart of God and of God-Made-Flesh-and-Bone.

All those years of waiting had to be painful, but they were needed.

And today, we wait again, and it’s painful, and it’s needed. Our reality must be met with hope, met with peace and love and joy and grace, or the journey becomes blurred or forsaken altogether.

Our world hurts, from the dug up rivers and their protectors to the children of Syria to the oppressed in every corner, even those in our backyard. So Advent becomes an aching and painful grasp onto the chance at things being made new.

If Jesus has the capacity to create renewals of everything in our reality, isn’t it fitting for us to find renewal in our daily journeys?

Let this Advent season mean something different for your journey, and if that means finding the Christ child through your own child eyes, by all means do so.

No journey is wasted, and Advent is all about the long journey to the Christ child and all the journeying after.

But in the meantime, we can’t let our anger or grief dissipate into nothingness, nor do we bury it so deep that it eats away or seeds itself in us as revenge or bitterness.

No.

We take those human feelings and we let them work their way out of us in shalom-ways, in the way of hope, in the way of every good work. That is the way of the peaceful protestor, the way of the rock that stands still and stoic after years and years of rubble around him.

This is the way of Jesus, if the stories ring true, if shalom really is what he intended for it to be.

That is what we hold onto, what Advent gives us as we re-see the Savior child and re-imagine our own journeys of beginning and waiting again.

God is Not Culture

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Last week  at church, I sat in the midst of a discussion about the will of God.

We took turns telling our stories, sharing our points of view, discussing whether or not we can hold the will of God for another person, and what the will of God means for each of us.

Inside, I told myself over and over again that God is not culture. Because what we know in our churches is that God is good and Jesus is just, but it takes a lot to swallow that neither are American. Neither are any other culture, for that matter; they do not belong to a nation or a people, but hover over and in all of us, with the vastness of shalom as their greatest attribute.

I walk this ever- dissonant  line between learning my Native American heritage & spirituality and my place in today’s western Christian world, and as those lines become thinner and the black and whites become grayer, I discover that the journey toward God is the journey out of every culture I’ve ever known and into something sincerely other.

So all the characteristics that used to define my days are being re-arranged and re-structured, and I find that while it is difficult to strip myself of western culture in order to find God, it is possible.

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As a young girl and on into my teenage years, I followed every rule according to my Baptist upbringing. I never kissed and hardly dated, I worried myself silly over missed assignments or classes, I feared for my salvation because I felt excessively guilty over sins like forgetting to do my quiet time or my judgmental attitude. Some was personality, some was baggage, but a lot of it was culture.

In college I took a world literature class, and when an old testament bible story was called crazy by many of the students sitting around me, my childhood world was shaken and shattered and I faced a big, wide open world that I hadn’t realized existed– and I had to ask myself, what relationships had I missed living in that bubble?

While I let a western Christian culture define me, what good things were actually waiting on the outside of that culture?

While fear and guilt felt overwhelming, what brought me true peace all those years?

I cannot say that I regret my childhood, of course. It created and molded me, sent me into the world as who I am. But I certainly see that as the woman I am today, the shift has been a liberation.

There are a lot of problems we face today– problems as citizens, as creators, as investors, as families or parents or friends, as leaders or followers, as human beings. Perhaps the best way to break apart the cultured answers to those problems is to forget culture all together, to unpack it from where we stand now, and to ask ourselves, those closest to us, the waiting air, the God who’s always known a way– Who am I and where am I going?

Last week at church, I asked that question again.

And God answers with snippets of dreams and voice and relationships that speak truth.

God answers in the life of my great-great-grandmothers and their mothers before them who knew that journey was a sacred, good thing.

God answers in my modern day, Cooperative Baptist Church, where I lead people in singing out, in proclaiming that we are all hungry and wanting and waiting for liberation.

So I plant my feet in my moccasins in the morning, I greet the autumn air, I wish for my boys to know the world through song and dance and story and miracle, and I wish it for myself, too.

And next week, you and I will gather in our churches or shake hands in our communities or bring friends into our homes, and a few weeks after that we will stand in line at polling stations and make decisions and ask what is next for ourselves, for those we love, even for those we disagree with on every level but that still belong to us.

May we hold those spaces with reverence, accepting that what we know to be true today shapes us tomorrow, and what journey awaits us in the days and nights from here on out could be something completely other, a reality foreign to us, but forever necessary.

While reading poetry with my boys, I came across a poem called “Evolution” by Sara Holbrook and I think that’s exactly us, exactly what the journey is meant to be, a deep want and need to move and exist and change:

TV came

out of radio,

free verse

came out of rhyme.

I am

coming out of middle school,

changing all the time.

It’s time to lose the water wings,

crawl out of this lagoon.

I want to stand upright.

Get on my feet.

I want it soon.