Grief Has a Voice (Are You Listening?)

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

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

“Lean in,” it implores.

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

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

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

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

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

He grieved from Gethsemane.

It taught him who he was.

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

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

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

I suggest we try.

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

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

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

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

She teaches us to care for our enemies.

She teaches us to forgive.

She teaches us to let God mend our hearts.

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

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

And the Spirit holds her hand along the way.

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

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

But her voice is universal.

We are a nation grieving.

We live on an earth that grieves.

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

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

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

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

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

“First the pain, then the rising.”

–Glennon Doyle Melton

So may we lean in.

May we listen.

May we grieve.

And may we journey toward Shalom together.

 

Amen.

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.

Practicing Parenthood In a Time of Chaos

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During long drives in the car, I’ve had some difficult conversations with my boys about justice, the law, the difficult history that we’re a part of as native people and as Christians, and the overall climate of our nation today.

A hundred years ago, we probably would have been told that parenting is hard– just like it’s hard today. Maybe the world is worse in our century, or maybe it’s a little better– whatever it is, chaos is still present, and as parents, we still have a job to do.

So with that challenge in place, we pray that we lead our little ones both in the right way and in their own way— we help them find their gifts, we walk beside them, we teach them to value the journeys and stories of others, we discipline and shape their character, and we let them see the world with the tethering of hope through which Jesus saw it.

Even so.

I don’t like living in a world in which I have to tell my son that laws are meant to protect people…usually.

I don’t like living in a world in which the history of indigenous people is known by stories of kids being taken from their savage parents and placed in boarding schools or with civilized, non-native families.

I don’t like living in a world in which my child’s sexuality is defined by their favorite color or toy preference or ability to be creative.

I don’t like living in a world in which the word enemy is defined by political party and reconciliation is not practiced enough between people of faith.

And yet.

I love living in a world in which my boys can grow up to change laws.

I love living in a world  in which we can challenge social norms with the power of shalom.

I love living in a world in which they can change history for their own people generations down the road,

that they can redefine what it means to be strong and brave and smart,

and that they can love their enemies and engage reconciliation on a daily basis.


 

Sometimes I wish Jesus had been a parent. Then maybe there would have been stories about his encounters with his kids that we could draw advice from–

That time his toddler threw a tantrum in the synagogue and he had to compassionately parent him into understanding;

That time they saw someone poor neglected by the law and he had to tell his kids why before they engaged in protest for the least of these against the rulers of their day;

That time he had to tell his teenager to fearlessly pray for a society  that objectifies her, the same way he told her to stand tall and proud of who she is, that her voice matters, and that love trumps hate.

But we don’t have those kinds of stories.

We have stories that tell us he healed lepers and looked children in the eyes, that he challenged the concept of seen and not heard.

We know his heart, and it guides us in these days, in this country, in this world, in which we have all the things that make living difficult and all the things that make living sacred.

So if we know what Jesus was like, we walk in that spirit of shalom.

We teach our children the lessons that we learned and the lessons we should have learned. We teach them to be better and we don’t fear learning from them.

And in our social, political, and religious climate, we follow the rules of shalom– the rules of peace– and they guide us in our conversations, in our actions, in the way we interact with other human beings.

Because honestly, I don’t know how to be a parent now. I know that there is a Mystery within the realm of God that gives me strength when I need it, and that Jesus leads me, often through the lessons my little ones teach me.

I don’t know that the world today is any worse or any better than it was.

But I know that chaos cannot last forever, and in the midst of it, Jesus still makes all things new.


Jesus,

Teach us the lessons we don’t read on scripture pages.

Teach us the lessons that give us grace in our everyday lives,

lessons that remind us we are not alone,

we are not abandoned,

that you are the partner in all things we do.

You are the partner when we are at our wits’ end.

You are the partner that pushes us through the next challenge.

You are the partner that gives us grace to say no,

grace to change direction,

grace to start over.

So much is given to us in the words of scripture,

and yet,

we learn so much in our humanity,

in our person-to-person encounters,

there is no way we can say

that we did not see you

here in our day,

in our time,

when we thought chaos would win.

And so we remember that you are better.

You are stronger.

You are a kind leader.

And we rest in the lessons you teach us right now, today. 

Amen.

 

 

 

Defining Myself Without Fear

Photo by Amy Paulson Photography

I’ve never been one for confrontation. My need for inner and communal harmony is pretty high, so you can imagine that with the current dividedness of our country, and the ongoing pain of learning about my native ancestors’ struggle over what we call Turtle Island, I am pretty emotionally exhausted.

Since the election, I’ve been wary of calling myself a liberal or a progressive out loud, because with every mention of a political or ideological title, things can get hateful pretty quickly. My own church is an umbrella church under which there is a mixture of people, a mixture of beliefs. I’m grateful for it, because when we are together we are forced to step outside of ourselves for a few hours and rest at the bottom-line of Jesus.

Still, as I continue to write and find my voice as a leader in the church and as a native woman in America today, I feel I need to make a decision.

Am I truly a progressive?

I checked to see.

Progressive: happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step; a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.

Then, I looked up liberal: open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

But on our Facebook and Twitter walls, we attack each other for such titles, so I’ve had a hard time placing myself in a particular group. Is it possible that I am a female, Christian, Native American, Progressive, Liberal?

It seems that it is.

And while I claim the title, I am so many other things beyond it and within it. We have to remember that we are varied in every belief or stance, ranging from extreme to somewhere in the middle and back to the extreme side again.

So that’s what we need to see in each other: we exist beyond our labels, but our labels guide the spaces we inhabit and the arguments we make.

So I argue for change, as it happens step by step, as it moves with our lives, as it journeys within our journey. And in the midst of an ever-changing society, I wait and watch.

I wait and watch as the world asks what’s next.

I wait and watch what native peoples will fight for in the coming years, with a realization that those things are the same things we’ve fought for since the beginning.

I wait and watch as the world asks what it means to be a woman, and what it looks like for women to have the ability to choose what their lives are about.

I wait and watch as people learn to be human to each other, to step over dividing lines to remember that we belong to each other.

I wait and watch as the church — my church included — decides what to do with the chaos in the world, decides who to stand up for and who to listen to when things get heated.

Mostly, I watch the trees outside my window and my two young boys play with Legos on the kitchen floor. I watch the everydayness of my life, and know that I am tethered to that shalom kind of sacredness in this country and in this world, even if that means constant change and a future that looks different than the past.

So if I am a progressive liberal, can I begin as one with a blank slate?

If I call my brother or sister a conservative, can I see their blank slate as well?

If we are afraid of the titles we hold over one another, then we must learn to give each other grace within those beliefs, and from there, to hold each other accountable on the basis of our humanity, our responsibility to care for one another and the world around us.

Dividing lines will always exist.

But they don’t have to define us.

— — — — -

Jesus,

You had a reputation, you know.

You stood with women that you shouldn’t have stood by.

You neglected the important aspects of worship.

You ate meals with dirty fishermen

and you gave the poor the rich man’s best food and clothes.

You were called every name, I’m sure.

I’m sure when you walked by groups of dissent,

whispers slithered back and forth like snakes,

and you were always the culprit,

always the man who should never have been

called Messiah.

And yet.

And yet, you stood by the wells

and ate meals with the dirty

and kissed lepers.

And yet, you called the children

close and told them the whole

world belonged to their dreams.

You, Jesus,

lived beyond every title,

lived only by the rules of the

shalom you created.

May we live that way.

May we live that way.

May we live that way.

Amen.

Shalom: her magnetic heart

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You and I are “other” to each other,
foreign creatures,
locked in our independent skin.

You and I, we’re unnerved
when we’re together,
we’re fractured, disconnected,
thin as moth-wing.

And yet, the same stuff
that tears us from each other
gravitates us to each other,
and all along,
the earth keeps spinning
to help us shake the
regret-dust from
our shoulders.

I cannot assume you,
and you cannot assume me.

And yet, we began in the same
womb of thought,
the same dream of beginning.

We started and we will end,
and in between we can
detonate bombs
or
unmake them;

We can tighten the noose
or
make climbing ropes;

We can pull triggers
or
bury our weapons
beneath the trees
in our city parks
and let our
oneness
grow out of their
metal mouths.

You and I are “other” to each other,
but desperate enough to invade
these spaces–

desperate enough to fill up the
missing places,

patch up the broken links,

re-engage where we’ve
abandoned.

Shalom– She is a sacred word,
an everlasting act.

Shalom– She is an enduring
vision on the
darkest night,

and that magnet-force that keeps
fighting against our
pulling
and
tugging,
because she puts us
always back
where we were before–

hand in hand by the fire.

Shalom– She knows us better.

Shalom– She binds together the
blistered souls,

and we quiet ourselves,

eyes locked,

all “otherness” dissipated
in a stream of
perfect light.

A Lesson in Lighting: Shalom In Our Stories

The apartment is still coming together, slowly but surely.

I worked on the balcony today, and to my joy, the air outside was a breezy 75 degrees, so I was comfortable as I worked.

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There’s a great deal of peace, of shalom that comes with a home that’s put together, to a space that has room for every little thing–

Now, I don’t always do it well. There are definitely odd things in odd places, but organization is a constant process, like the way we try to find God in all spaces, every day.

There are stories to be written inside these walls.

There’s lemonade to make and there are veggies to chop.

There are babies to be snuggled with and a dog who needs a wrestle.

Today, there are candles lit. Little tea lights that give shine to shadowed corners and forgotten nooks.

There are boys munching on tortilla chips and I must quiet my heart again and give thanks for the sweetness here.

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In the end, it doesn’t matter exactly how we decorate, what style blog we follow or Pinterest board we imitate.

But the objects we place around us call out the stories in us, and in the corners and at the couches, around the tables, we share.

When all is gone and we gather with only our hands and feet and worn souls, the lives we’ve created in these places live on.

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So, create your space. Give yourself to that empty sunroom, that unkept and never-decorated area that’s been calling for attention.

Create and create again every day after, until your life becomes word and flesh, rhythm and prose.

Light your dark corners, fill a pot with flower and soil, and breathe in deep.

This. This is life, and this is our story.

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