This last week has been a difficult one for my family. My daughter with her family live, or lived, in Paradise, California. The massive devastation through the CampFire has been beyond difficult for the community of Paradise. Many people have lost homes, schools, and their town. And others did not make it out alive. How do we manage such places of loss?
My daughter called me early the morning of the fire, to tell me she and her family were okay but that they were being evacuated. She had actually started leaving her house just before the mandatory evacuation. I am so thankful for her decisive action and their safety. One of the things she remembered about leaving their home was that the trees around her house were crackling. The fire wasn’t there yet, but the trees on her property were making crackling sounds.
I don’t know a whole lot about forests. Once when I was researching, I discovered that trees in a forest or grove are actually connected underground through their root system. What one tree lacks due to pests, drought, or disease, other trees send through their roots.
I wondered, was this crackling due to the heat and the approaching fire or was it the community of trees sending on the message to those further ahead? Could this be a warning to whoever or whatever was ahead of the fire?
This image - born in time of devastation - offers a beautiful illustration of community. Together, we live this life in healthier ways than if we are isolated. When we can walk alongside others within community, we can learn to share our needs and meet the needs shared.
This is what I noticed for my daughter and her family in California and for myself as I was holding my family from so far away. My daughter and son-in-law are surrounded by a community that is supporting them as they navigate life after such great loss - as they find a place to live, replace toys for the kids, and clothes for each of them, even a space for their dog. So many needs as they have lost everything.
I also see community and support being offered to them from afar. People, family and friends, who have known us throughout their lifetime, are providing support and love. I can say this speaks volumes to my momma’s heart as I watch their sadness and courage in the face of such a devastating loss.
I’ve been surprised at the impact on my own heart in watching my kids suffer. I live 500 miles away and am not able to rush down and give them a hug. Even if I could, I would not be able to make the pain and loss go away. But my heart hurts to watch them. So much so that I am unable to think about much else. I find I am paying attention to the news and the progress of the fire. I even checked to see what view was available through Google Earth. (Just so you know: it is only updated every one to three years.)
The intentional community I live in has been a place where I am welcomed just as I am. These relationships allow me to understand the intensity of my own emotions, to be honest with permission to allow the pain of holding the hurt of my family.
I wonder if this is living in community - our empathy with the others in our lives, feeling with or even in the emotions of others. When the people around us are suffer, we get to hold that burden together, and that makes it a bit lighter for all. Maybe it is in the sharing of the weight of the load that allows us to benefit from sharing the weight of the pain and also the gift of the joy together. Maybe this is the way we are designed to live, sharing the struggles and joys of life in community together instead of in isolation in this individualistic culture in which we live. This seems to be more like the trees with the root systems connected under the topsoil.
I’m thankful for the community that is surrounding my family. I’m grateful for the community that is surrounding me. I’m also grateful to be part of a community of family and friends that allows us to experience each other's grief, happiness, sadness, and joy. In community, the load is lightened and more beautiful. It comes from how we understand God - if God is about relationship, being with us, then it seems that living life in community, one with another, there is both the experience and the reality of a God who is always with us.
What if this is how we experience the goodness of God? We experience this goodness within relationship, within love, within a community of people where we can both see and be seen, to know and be known, to love and be loved.
In a few of my previous blog posts, I wrote about current events through Brueggeman’s framework of the Psalms: Orientation, Disorientation, New Orientation. The first stage is a place of contentment with the status quo with an understanding that it will go on forevermore. Kind of like happily ever after…
The second stage is a place of lament, shifting sand, a dissonance that can shake us to our core. This is uncomfortable and not easy. It seems safer to protect ourselves from the difficulties of facing our emotions or the loss in our lives.
The last stage is a new orientation. This is a space of a bigger view of God. If we follow the invitation toward God through the dissonance involved in the state of Disorientation, we come to a new awareness of God. Often, it seems like a hard-won gift of freedom.
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
We can see this movement through many Psalms. This last state is a place of praise for being met in the difficult spaces of life. However, once in this space of praise, this new awareness begins to feel like an old orientation, once again. For example, in Psalm 147 the praises begin to be more generally stated. This is when new awarenesses become another theological box that holds our expected happily ever after…
So what do we notice on this journey? I believe the invitation is to be aware and to take notice of what it is that flows through our days. To hold, without judgment, what we notice and what we feel about whatever we notice. This means to hold whatever we sense without assigning value - be it good or bad. What we sense, what we feel, what we notice, just is.
This doesn’t mean taking a passive stance to whatever we notice. Noticing isn’t passive. To refrain from judging what we notice, doesn’t feel natural. What it seems to take, is a decision to be gentle with ourselves.
Our tendency, at least mine, has been to fix what I discover in my own heart, what I notice. This comes from a place of deciding that whatever I find has to be fixed because I am not “enough” as I am. This is a place of shame - the definition of shame is to be “not enough.”
Let me explain - I love to play in the ceramics lab. The feeling of clay beneath my fingers is a place where I am invited to join the Creator in creating. For me, it is a healing and worshipful experience, more so than just about anything else. Through my time in the lab, I have made bowls for my grandchildren with their names on them and a heart traced on the bottom of the inside. My hope is that the heart will represent my love for them as they finish whatever is in their bowl.
My five-year-old granddaughter called me up the other day to let me know that her bowl was broken. She was crushed and I could tell she was afraid to tell me. It was something I had created for her with great love and it was ruined. Maybe I would be mad. Maybe I would shame her. Through many tears and with the encouragement of her mom, she told me what had happened.
Now, as a loving grandma, what would I do with this newly acquired information? For me the answer was simple. Mema, my grandmother name, would, of course make a new one. I couldn’t promise it by her birthday, but absolutely by Christmas!
What did my sweet granddaughter learn from this experience? Hopefully, she learned that Mema was safe and loved her, regardless. That I was for her, regardless of anything. I hope she grew to understand that she could share anything and not be rejected. To do this, she had to be vulnerable and share her truth. Her bowl was broken and she really wanted another one.
My granddaughter had to trust me enough. Maybe she had to trust her mom’s trust in me enough to tell me. She will be rewarded for that trust in just a little over a month. But it required trust.
That is the invitation. When we take what we notice to God, we trust God to meet us in our noticing without condemnation. This is a bigger view of God that allows us to believe that God is for us, regardless. This vulnerability with God allows God to heal our wounds based on the lies, fears, and doubts we hold as truth. Our tendency, at least mine, has been to hide in my shame and not trust. To judge what I notice and keep it hidden. This creates a barrier between God and me.
For me, noticing takes quiet and space. I have to learn the difference internally of when I am resistant or receptive toward God and others. When I notice that I am resistant, my practice has become to take what I notice to God to see God’s view. The gift has been to experience a God that is gentle and for me, regardless. When I experience a God that is harsh and judgmental, I’ve learned to understand that god is usually of my own making. The invitation is to let go of my barriers and trust God to be outside of my own expectations and judgments. This is a little like my granddaughter and her broken bowl. God is certainly for us!
Brueggemann, Walter. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984.
We are hearing about so much devastation in our world through natural disasters and wildfires. We need rain in parts of our country and need less in others. The content of our prayers differs depending on our perspective.
Unfortunately, we hear many things to blame for these circumstances. I’ve heard it blamed on our morality, who our president is, our inability to love one another, and natural consequences for how we have treated our environment. In the midst of the blaming, we see division and judgment.
I’ve been doing reading for a class I am teaching on Psalms and another I am taking on Church History. Both of these topics have given me something to think about as I notice loss in our world and in my own life.
Brueggemann defines the flow of the Psalms starting with orientation, moving to disorientation, and ending in a new orientation, only to start the cycle again. This flow reminds me of our journey through spiritual formation. In my last blog, I spoke about disorientation or lament. This time I would like to start with the first stage.
Orientation is a mindset where we are content with the way things are, the status quo. Brueggemann actually states that our dominant culture is resistant to change, both from loss and surprise.
Amazing, we are as unwelcoming of change from surprise as we are from loss. We prefer the way things are. We are full of gratitude as we think this place of contentment will continue on forever. The thing is, it never does.
Often, we are unaware that our place of goodness is often at the expense of another. During the Babylonian exile, Israel wrote psalms of despair while Babylon was content to have slave labor. We see it in our own country as we debate about white privilege and racism. We see it in the way we define the reason behind natural disasters. In the midst of seeing our own lives of goodness, we are completely blind of another’s struggle or pain.
Sometimes, from this place of blindness, we define “right” and “wrong” and ultimately how we expect God to act based on our own circumstances. Often, we are unaware of how our own place in society shapes our lens. Our definition of a life of faith and our understanding of God is shaped by our culture, what we have learned, and our circumstances.
How does God meet us in this predicament where one person’s gratitude bumps up against another’s cry for mercy. What do we do with this tension of seemingly opposing understandings? It is difficult to hold this tension and sometimes we respond out of fear and with judgment. This place can lead to viewing others as enemies.
We may think that God needs to fix others without really looking at ourselves. It makes me wonder…what if God is actually for all of us without division or favoritism? How does this make sense in our lived-out understanding of God?
This brings me to my reading in Church History. As the early church tried to figure out the way forward, they weren’t defined by land or temple as other religions in that time. The surrounding communities wondered about this New Way due to the courage shown in facing martyrdom and the willingness to care for those impacted by a plague that made others turn away. They lived out generous hospitality.
Jesus taught that Christians would be known by their love and these early Christians lived out that call. In fact, they defined morality not by what was “right” or “wrong” but by generous hospitality, loving and hosting space for everyone, regardless.
It makes me wonder about us, about me. What does generous hospitality look like? I think we have seen it in Houston and even locally during the fire in the Gorge. Firefighters risked their lives to protect precious areas in Oregon. First responders and neighbors risked their lives in rescuing others in Texas. I think we live it out when we walk alongside others in their loss and grief without judging them for being in the midst of such sadness. Maybe it is loving those around us, regardless, recognizing God is in them as well as in ourselves.
So how does God meet us in this tension? What if God grieved with us in our places of deep loss and celebrated in our places of safety and gratitude? What if God was big enough to be in the midst of our circumstances, regardless?
What if we allowed God to show us how our own places of orientation impact another? What if our hearts grieved with God for those who suffer injustice or are oppressed in our system?
It seems that becoming aware is one of the first steps toward changing our system. But first, let us grieve together and allow that journey through grief to be a place to join God in God’s work of generous hospitality. Maybe, this is the real work of living out the incarnational life Jesus invites us to experience.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984.
Irvin, Dale T., and Scott W. Sunquist. History of the World Christian Movement: Earliest Christianity to 1453. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2001.
Over the last several posts, I have shared about listening to our hearts and allowing whatever we find there, to teach us. This morning, during prayer, I discovered that I was feeling a little overwhelmed by all I needed to do. There is a lot on my plate as I am working toward forming this ministry. I enjoy it all, but there is a lot to do.
In noticing my feeling of being overwhelmed, I could just push through it and tackle everything that is on my plate. I could also decide to not do some of it. I could even decide to take a nap!
The thing is, being overwhelmed isn’t a bad thing and it doesn’t need to be fixed. In noticing it and listening, I realized I am overwhelmed because, well... there is a lot to do. This is true and I enjoy doing all these tasks. The invitation is to notice, not judge or resist this feeling, allow it to teach me, and then let it go.
What I sensed through this process was an invitation to allow myself to be present in God’s presence. I can trust the journey one step at a time while following God’s lead and not the next hurried task. Even in so many things to do, the chaos of busyness can subside, and I can move forward one step at a time.
In this transformational journey, we don’t become something different than we are. We become more fully who we have always been. The refinement or trueness of the journey is bringing us back to the likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27) in which we were created. It seems amazing, yet true - how could it not be?
The barriers and walls we put up, hide who we really are. They distort our very essence, both to ourselves and to others. We form them in reaction to something. They become a diversion to the true life journey we are invited to pursue.
The dissonance in our lives, the despair, pain, loss - the unsettledness - what often feels like shifting sand beneath our feet are an invitation to embrace the uncomfortableness we feel. With God, we can discover the lies, fears, or doubts that are the root or support of any barrier. In this journey of continued self-discovery, we are becoming more and more our true selves, more fully in-tune with who God created us to be. Each of our strengths becomes ever so much deeper, fuller, and truer.
So what do we do? We listen, we listen with our whole selves to what our inner teacher is teaching us. We listen to the unsettledness we feel. We notice our reactive responses and the places we are uncomfortable. Instead of reasoning them away, we listen to them and open ourselves to God’s gaze in the midst of the pain, unsettledness, loss or whatever is going on in our hearts. We listen…
The practice I use as a regular rhythm in my life is The Examen Prayer. This prayer was first shared by Ignatius of Loyola during the 16th Century. It is an opportunity to look at what happens during a day with God. During the practice, you can either look at your day, one event at a time, or hold two contrasting questions. This is the handout I often use in the classes I teach.
A continual practice of the Examen Prayer can be part of the journey toward greater self-awareness and a deeper relationship with God. As we show up vulnerably with God, we can experience peace and reconciliation inside ourselves. As we experience greater peace and unity, this same peace and unity flow to our community.
In the process, we wait in the light. This journey of transformation is passive on our part. The invitation, for each of us, is to show up in it. As we wait in the light, we can begin to see our own belovedness in God’s gaze. We begin to surrender to that very place, our belovedness and God’s reminder that God is always for us!
Over the last few blog entries, we have discussed the invitation of allowing our hearts to teach us by noticing our hearts, letting go of judgment, and releasing what we tend to hold on to. Many times this invitation comes to us through our relationships with other people.
Col. 3:15 speaks to this and I am including it from two translations. The Message seems to bring the intention behind the Greek in focus. Looking at the NIV, as well, helps to give us a fuller picture.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. (The Message)
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (NIV)
The words “let” and "rule" are from a single Greek word. It is a command to allow this “peace of Christ” to have authority in our hearts. Paul doesn’t tell us to “make” it happen but to “let” it happen or to allow it. Often, we try to be what we think we need to be instead of allowing ourselves to be transformed. As we’ve discussed before, this transformational journey is passive on our part - we allow it, we open ourselves to the process.
The word peace can have a wide array of meanings in our culture. We tend to think of it as the absence of conflict. A Jewish understanding would be toward harmony, wholeness, health. It sounds like being brought together in relationship. This idea opens our understanding of this verse. Maybe it goes beyond the absence of conflict inside us or between us and others. Maybe it includes the invitation to allow what we notice to transform us toward wholeness.
The example of this wholeness is Christ. Paul speaks of the unity of Christ and the Father in Col. 1. This is our example of peace, this place of unity and the self-giving flow of relationship within the triune God. Notice in the NIV version, the peace rules in our own hearts first. The result of living at peace within ourselves impacts our relationship with others.
One picture that has helped me understand the absence of peace is in one of my favorite places, the ceramics lab. Let me invite you to imagine sitting at a wheel with wet clay moving beneath your hands. The feeling of the movement of the clay is a calming sensation.
Centering the clay on the rotating wheel was one of the hardest things for me to learn. When I first started spending time in the lab, my world felt like it was in chaos. I had to learn how to become centered, calm, in order to be in an emotional and physical state to bring that same stillness to the clay.
As the clay rotates with the wheel, you can notice a wobble or dissonance that shows the clay isn’t centered. It’s important to remove any wobble, even if it is barely felt, as the clay is formed into its final piece. A wobble, in the beginning, can quickly become disastrous in the process.
Noticing the wobble takes a stillness or quietness in your body and soul. I discovered that if I closed my eyes and became in tune to the feel of the movement of the clay beneath my hands, I can feel even slight wobbles. Once a wobble becomes noticeable, steps can be taken to completely center the clay.
This dissonance felt in the clay may be felt inside our own emotional and spiritual journey. I believe this is the invitation to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts. If we become still enough, we can notice a wobble within ourselves. If the wobble is left alone, it can cause disastrous effects in our own lives as well as in the lives of those around us.
In my own personal journey, I have felt that wobble or dissonance sometimes fiercely and sometimes faintly. This dissonance is an invitation to a deepening journey with God. Ignoring it, however faint, can become a place of violence in our lives.
Violence is a place of division, often caused by judgment towards myself, God, or those around me. Through my journey, I have found dissonance is best approached through contemplative prayer. It has become a helpful place to heal the divisions created through much of my life, both in my own inner self and in my relationships with others.
We are invited to bring all of who we are in all our relationships - not more or less to fit perceptions, but all of us. It seems this means noticing our own limitations and strengths, realizing what is or is not ours to bring. This requires humility and, at least for me, realizing our own tendency to push through. It is an invitation to refrain from judging our own strengths and limitations as being either good or bad. It becomes an invitation to notice the emotions that often uncover these places and to allow them to teach us.
Wholeness is about being present in the loving Presence, always. We do this ever so imperfectly. We are not called to do it flawlessly. The invitation is following this openness toward grace for the journey toward more spaciousness inside ourselves. It seems the goal isn’t being at peace but to follow the discovery and release of what isn’t peaceful. This can be a place of awareness that creates a spaciousness in our relationship with God and in that for those around us.
This journey of self-awareness isn’t easy but it is a gentle opening toward greater wholeness and spaciousness in our lives. A prayer I have practiced in this kind of space is The Examen prayer. I will share more about that practice next time. It is a practice that allows us space, without judgment, to discover God’s gaze of whatever we are holding.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!