Not the Lent I intended

Some years, we elect our Lenten discipline, thoughtfully chosen to strategically open or soften parts of our hearts that feel more like stone than like flesh.

This year my heart got a different kind of  journey than I had plotted.

The Lent I had planned included a series of 40 reflections, 31 already thought through and outlined…. All focused on feminine spirituality and why we as church seem determined to avoid this reality of gender different spirituality in favor of being insistent on this view of unisex spirituality. Like Mary of Magdalene who met Jesus in the garden, I felt called to go and tell that story whether anyone listened or not.

 

That was the Lent I planned.

Then life entered and

Side lined

Erased

Evicted my plans.

Well, “life” is likely too broad of a word to be truly honest… a simple generality I am hiding behind because I don’t want to write about my pain. I really, really don’t want to write about my physical pain. I don’t want to give it space or power or attention or even words. In many ways, I am thankful to have been able to carry on with much of life and work.

Though I am now making more serious adjustments.  I have missed a few of my appointments. I am traveling less for business. (Thankfully, still vacationed with our family.) And, with a new tentative diagnosis and better meds, the end may be in sight. Maybe.

But writing has suffered the most (hum, maybe I should have chosen a different discipline)

When pain is bad, I can’t concentrate to write.

When it is better, I am so tired or behind on everything else that all I want to do is sleep and recover.

The other part of Lent that has been a surprise has been where the comfort has come from.

Though the list is long, I will describe but one scene since it happened just this evening at the Maunday Thursday service I almost didn’t attend.

In some Episcopal churches, including our big downtown one, we really do still wash each other’s feet. Last year we went to the kid’s service which was a BLAST (or shall I say SPLASH!) This, year, I was too late for that one, even late for the grown up one but went anyway.

Comfort came tonight in the way that a big muscly dude with tattoos and a golden paisley-like shirt, a man I don’t know at all, washed my feet. He was so careful and gentle and thorough.  There was no rush only care, real care to each detail. And afterwards, he thanked me so sincerely.

It’s been a tough Lent. I have still mostly related to Mary of Magdalane in the garden…. it’s just not yet the part about going forth to use my voice but instead the less comfortable moment when she could not see Jesus because of her tears.  Unlike her, I know he’s here somewhere. Maybe I will find him by Easter…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repentance redefined: Giving up exhaustion and opening to change

Day 4: Repentance redefined: Giving up exhaustion and opening to change

“exhaustion was not fertile soil for growth and change”

We had been meeting for about two years when my directee said to me: “You know the most helpful thing you’ve said to me since we’ve been meeting is

“God is not in favor of exhaustion.””

As a woman who struggles with over-work, conversation about balance and spiritual practice were a large part of our conversations together.  But it wasn’t until we began to talk about the theology behind  exhaustion that change began to happen. What does chronic exhaustion say about what I believe about God?

Many of us have heard it time and time again:  “You have to lose your life to save it.”

Jesus said that or something similar repeatedly in Scripture.  I grew up hearing that those words meant that I was to work until I could work no more, sacrifice until I was depleted, and then I would be deemed as faithful and transformed by that exhaustion.

But in my life, that view made less and less sense. I found that it just wasn’t working.  I was just exhausted.  And exhaustion was not fertile soil for growth, change, or anything that looked like love, joy, or peace.

And then I read three words that came just before one of those statements by Jesus:

Remember Lot’s wife.

Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

When I went back to Lot’s wife’s story , what I saw was a woman who died because she was afraid to change. She was called to flee from the city to the mountains, told by angels no less, and turned back to her old life instead.

Change is hard. Really hard. Even good, freeing, soul-satisfying wonderful change is hard.

Even change that leaves behind exhaustion is a challenge.

 Or change that reconnects us to family.

 Or change that lets us shine in our giftedness.

If you’ve followed this blog this lent, my hope is that you have experienced that non-traditional upside down redefined repentance is bringing light and joy and freedom to your soul…. that freedom to connect in messiness, to speak and to stand tall is producing the fruit of God’s spirit.  Counter-intuitively, at the same time, I trust that it has been hard. Actually even more difficult than if I had asked you to give up chocolate or facebook or a lot of your hard-earned money.

As women, an invitation to more sacrifice can deepen our ruts of caring for others and is often not helpful.

 Self-care challenges those ruts, and sometimes even our theology.

As Brother Vryhof writes in today’s version of Brother Give Us a Word,

 We may be afraid to be totally and unconditionally loved by God. What would it mean for us to begin to see ourselves – and to live – as beloved children of God? What image of myself might I have to let go of in order to embrace this new identity?

– Br. David Vryhof
, Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Letting go of old beliefs and patterns is hard, even if those old patterns are destructive forces in our lives.

How would your life change if you really believed that God is not in favor of exhaustion?

One of the changes I am opening to presently is the delight of being welcomed into our daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter’s life. My parents and I always struggled to connect. I am sure it was a co-created reality that we never managed to get past.  There was no estrangement; simply little connection. So, though I worked and hoped that that same distance would not be true with my own children, a part of me fell into that rut and never expected anything different.

But it is different.  In fact, we are going to our daughter’s house this evening to witness Georgia eating sweet potatoes for the first time. If recent history is a predictor of the future, it will be wonderfully enthusiastic, impossibly messy, great fun. To say “yes” to the invitation to go and make room in my life for such joy is what it means right now for me to lose my life (the distance I experienced and expected) to save it (to be transformed by the love of God in the form of a 6 month old and sweet potatoes.)

Who knew repentance could be such fun?… I promise I will share the pictures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repentance redefined: standing tall

” Not one more day did Jesus want this woman to live bent over.”

As I was completing work on my third book, My Own Worst Enemy,  I encountered the story of the woman bent over.

Listening once more to this Jesus-initiated, compassion-driven, Sabbath day healing of a woman bent over for 18 years, I was suddenly overwhelmed with all the ways that we as women may live bent over:

  • We tend to the needs of others while neglecting our own.
  • We exist in life as a “living apology,” seeking to earn worth through service, never quite hearing “well done.”
  • We diminish our gifts, wisdom, and brilliance.
  • We apologize for our voice or perspective, even if it’s helpful.
  • We feel selfish when we wisely choose self-care.
  • We relegate our desires to the “if I have time or extra resources” status…. and rarely “find” the time or resources.
  • We accept being “second class citizens” at church and in the world

Standing tall is not about elevating our ego, but about living into the freedom and dignity of our personhood.

Can we begin to imagine a world in which women stand tall?

Our inclination to bend seems to be written deeply within us.  It is recognized across many faith traditions. Integral theory proponent and author Ken Wilber has said that men need to bow to Buddha a thousand times a day and women need to stand up just as many times. For me, right now that looks like asking family, retreat centers, and others to accommodate some fairly burdensome dietary limitations.  (I had no idea how many foods contain night shade vegetables, MSG or MSG-like natural flavorings!) Why is it so hard to ask for myself when I would happily do for someone else?  I think it’s because somewhere inside there’s still a part of me living as a bent over woman.

We see many women in Scripture learn to stand tall:

Miriam

Hannah

Esther

 Jairus’ daughter

The women who followed him and watched at the cross

The woman caught in adultery

The woman who anointed Jesus

Jesus thought a woman’s freedom to stand tall was so important that he broke the law and healed this woman on the Sabbath. I hear in his actions a holy impatience: Not one more day did Jesus want this woman to live bent over.

Can we hear that healing and freeing passion now?  For us? For you and me?

On our pilgrimage to Germany last fall, I was struck by both the massive trees on the hill where the ruins of St. Hildegard’s monastery remain as well as several statues of St. Hildegard standing tall. In her life, she stood up against abbots, bishops, and royalty. She spoke up, at first hesitantly, later boldly about the visions God had given her, visions that reflected a more feminine spirituality that valued the earth and wholeness and welcomed all.

Will we dare to feel Jesus’ healing, freeing touch every time we are tempted to

make ourselves small?

apologize for existing or speaking?

diminish our accomplishments or contributions?

excuse those who exclude, silence, or diminish us?

forget our own needs or desires?

 It is not okay with Jesus for us to live bent over.

Did you hear that?

Living bent over is not an acceptable option to Jesus.

Repent, oh, woman. Stand tall. Stand tall.

How are you tempted to live bent over? What will it look like for you to stand tall today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repentance redefined: silent no more

Day 2:            “The pattern of Hannah’s spiritual growth echoes that of many, many other women in Scripture:

growth toward a larger sense of voice and personhood rather than silence.”

I grew up in a faith tradition that believed women were to be seen and not heard in the church and, for most part, at home, too. Based on a few verses from the Epistles, an entire gender, including myself, was silenced.

Yet new questions rose within me as I began to listen to the collective stories of women in Scripture. Only Scripture could unlock my cage and free my voice. I saw a completely different pattern. My first clue was Hannah’s story.

At first Hannah was silenced by the pain of her infertility, the open abuse she suffered from her fellow wife, Peninah, and even the subtle shaming of her desire for a son by her loving-but-unwise husband Elkanah.  But the story does not end there.

Hannah stood.

And in standing, she began her journey toward growth and voice.

Her next step was an unspoken prayer to God that reclaimed her desire for a son as a holy one and voiced a heart-broken request to be remembered by God. (I’ve been thinking lately that I need some lessons from Hannah on moaning and lamenting.)

Next, Hannah stood up to Eli the priest when he accused her of being drunk. “Not so, my Lord.” A woman… saying “no” to a priest… don’t miss the import of this!

Then Hannah named herself with “I am” and “I am not” statements, again owning her pain and desire.

After receiving Eli’s blessing (no hard feelings),

Hannah went her way.

She ate something, nourished herself.

Her face was no longer downcast.

Eventually, she had a son.

When her husband went to the temple, she did not go. She had a different plan that she boldly spoke and lived.

When she brought the boy to the temple, she left him there.

In the midst of the loss of her son’s presence, she sang a great song of praise to God.

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.”

What a voice! What a woman! What repentance… silent no more.

The pattern of Hannah’s spiritual growth echoes that of many, many other women in Scripture: growth toward a larger sense of voice and personhood rather than silence.

Once more, Hannah has inspired me to new growth.  She has lived the wisdom I seek: growth through daring to speak. She is my inspiration to attempt to write about my passion each day this lent. My tools are different than hers were, but we are sisters nonetheless.

May we as women dare to repent, to come to voice today. The world, the church, and our families need our presence, our voices, our love, and our wisdom.

What will you speak today?