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  

 

 

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

 

Smudging & Cultural Appropriation

{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.}

Did you know that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples gives intellectual property rights to Indigenous people for smudging/ceremony?

We should have a conversation about cultural appropriation when it comes to this.

If you buy a smudge kit at a health food store or on an Etsy site that includes a feather and a fan for blowing around the smoke, you’re participating in cultural appropriation. Recently, Sephora advertised a bohemian “witch kit” with white sage included. Native women on Twitter battled with the company, explaining why using sage in a prepackaged kit is both a violation of the medicine itself and the rights of Indigenous peoples to that medicine.

Over time, it’s become a popular way to cleanse your home, an aspect of “new age” gatherings. But we must be careful about how we approach something that is important to another people group. Appropriation happens all the time, and we need to be more aware of it.

In my tribe’s story, Creator gave the people four gifts for prayer and ceremony: tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar. These gifts, grown from the earth, are used for different life seasons, in different ceremonies, to honor the land, always for the act of prayer and cleansing.

Not just any tobacco or sage, though. What we use is for ceremony, so it must be blessed and cleansed for a certain purpose. It must be handled with care and not packaged with a fake feather and a few incense sticks. There is substance, and it becomes something holy.

In Potawatomi culture, these gifts come alive. They teach us, heal us, cleanse us. They bring the beautiful, natural power of the land to us, a direct gift from Mamogosnan, the Creator.

And so, on a difficult day, before a meeting, I sometimes stop and pray. I stop and light my sage, my sweetgrass, my tobacco, and I rest.

I say, Migwetch Mamogosnan. Thank you, Creator.

And my breathing slows, my mind clears.

In the way of smudging, we do it to honor our ancestors who also prayed in their great joy and in their deep grief. This cannot be appropriated.

So, may we always pray because we are led to it by generations before us, by the gifts given to us.

If you want to smudge, I encourage you to order directly from a tribal store or gift shop, and smudge honoring the people that the ceremony of smudging belongs to. And I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers to this. The more I learn about other cultures, the more I appreciate about them, I have to also hold steady my respect for their culture. I have to, in my own way, fight against appropriation and white supremacy. Indigenous peoples deserve that respect, too, and even though it’s almost impossible to spot it sometimes, it’s an everyday occurrence, from Halloween costumes to shamanic sweat lodge ceremonies that dishonor our cultures.

For more thoughts on cultural appropriation, I encourage you to visit Dr. Adrienne Keene’s website, Native Appropriations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Good Things Become Visible

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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.

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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.

 

 

At The End of a Long Week: a Friday Prayer

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All I can say at the end of a long week is that I hope Your will was done.

I hope good came from bad,

holy from evil,

life from brokenness.

I hope somewhere that someone felt the sunlight sink deep into their bones,

that those same rays of sun bolted back out of them

and blessed their every neighbor.

I hope that when Kingdom came this week,

someone was paying attention,

someone engaged with their humanity

and Your perfection.

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It’s the end of a long week,

and I hope that we’re learning to rest better by now.

I hope our deep breaths are deeper

and our hunched shoulders are lowered

and our voices are less strained.

I hope we fill the spaces of the coming weekend

with that kind of Sabbath rest that only Kingdom

can teach us.

All I can say at the end of a long week is

Kingdom, come.

I hope that even where I feel empty, I am full;

I hope that where I feel full, I will be emptied back out;

and I hope all things will be leveled and brought to a good kind of justice,

because at the end of a long week,

the world is both terribly frightening

and

breath-takingly beautiful.

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At the end of a long week,

I hope that our daily bread was given,

that our debts were shackled off of us,

and that our hearts of stone were broken to meet the work of forgiveness.

At the end of a long week,

I hope that we stepped out of our realm and

into Yours,

and realized that they aren’t so far apart after all.

 

So at the end of a long week, I keep praying to the King of Tenderness:

God to enfold me,                                                                                                                                             

God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.

God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.

God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my soul,
God in my heart.

God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber,
God in mine ever-living soul,
God in mine eternity.

–Ancient Celtic Prayer, The Carmina Gadelica 

Amen.

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We sit together, one, together,

pressed into green chairs, shoulder to shoulder

with the glory and remembrance of sainthood carved into our hearts,

with cake on our laps and coffee steaming the air between.

We, the broken and undone,

We, the cherished and welcomed in.

We, the family.

And we bring to this windowed room our

thunderous laughter and our stone-heavy tears,

and we pour forth the nectar of our opened hearts and stilled souls.

And we speak of quiet Spirit and of leading Voice,

when it booms in our deepest places.

And I see that our shoes are all tied to our feet,

each of us in our shoes that have journeyed each single journey

to come here, to this mecca of community.

And we open our Book, whose pages

cover us and count us,

words that gather us in.

And it’s an hour, but our time here is forever,

for the Kingdom We Seek is not bound by time or secured by

our fingertips.

No.

It weaves itself through and between us, sewing us into

a tapestry meant for the world.

Hem us in, hem us in.

And we run to You in the beginning, each of us both prodigal son and brother of pride

embodied.

We come to You,

and gathered up in Your embraces,

we leave with the joy of sainthood sheltering us,

All is well, all is well.

 

Amen.