The very fine folks over at Catapult Magazine have released their newest issue today, Health & Wealth Gospel, and one of the articles features yours truly. (Thank you so much for including my article!) Head over to their site to check out the Heath & Wealth Gospel issue of Catapult.
In my last post, I briefly alluded to freaking out in the week preceding my first half marathon. As I mentioned, I wasn’t super excited because I was nervous about the mileage increase; but my freak out was mostly in reaction to knowing my beloved had organized an “entourage” to follow me along my race route and to celebrate after the race. I had just returned to Facebook after my Lenten hiatus to see that more people had committed to being there than I ever imagined. All I could think was that these people, some old friends and some new friends, were going to stand in the heat (and possible rain) for several hours just to watch me pass by them for a moment.
You see, I’m about the least patient person that I know, and I felt bad asking anyone other than my own husband to endure waiting around for me in the back of the pack. If I were a better runner, maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad; but I knew better than anyone else how long it would take. Because I hadn’t actually run the complete route before the race, I couldn’t exactly gauge when I’d be at certain checkpoints. I estimated based on my long-run performance, but running 13 miles is an unpredictable beast when the farthest you’ve ever run is 9 miles. So how could I really ask people to get up early on a Sunday and stand around for hours? Truthfully, I would never do that because I’m so impatient; I could never see myself doing something like that. (Maybe that makes me a bad friend? Maybe I need to learn how to be a good friend?) The only person I actually expected to be there was my husband, and that was only because the race was on a day he was off from work.
A Little Help from My Friends
Of course anyone’s first half marathon is a big deal, and most people would expect it to be a cause for celebration. I am not most people. I rarely ever ask for help. I never think anyone else I know would remotely care that I’m running in any race. I figure they’ve got better things to do, things that are more important to them. I figure the only people who really care about my running are other runners.
All of those assumptions might be true. But what I didn’t consider was that, though the people who showed up might not give a rat’s ass about running, they care about me. They wanted to support me because that’s what friends do. When I couldn’t get excited about it for myself, they got excited about it for me. Slowly and with my husband’s insistence, I came around to the concept that I have people in my life. I have people who are willing to get up early on a Sunday, people who are willing to stand around for hours, even in the heat and possible rain.
In a moment of bravery, I sent an email to my church. I let them know I didn’t want to speak up about it considering it was Palm Sunday and that Easter was coming, but that I could really use some encouragement for this event. And in response, as I was leaving church the week prior to the race, I was overwhelmed with love and encouragement from these people. My people.
That same week, my husband met with his friends from work to make signs. People I’ve only met a few times, people I hardly even know were staying up late making signs for my race. Of course I couldn’t be there; I was training. And still they did it. Some of them showed up too, even though they had sick babies at home, even though they never get up early on Sundays.
So this post is a very honorable mention and thank you for the people who thought of me, wrote to me, spoke words of encouragement to me, made signs, showed up, sent texts, and celebrated with me. This post is for every spectator who waits for the runners at the back of the pack. This post is for the people in my life. Thank you so much.
Easter has come (and gone), and Lent is over, which means I can now return to checking Facebook; and I did yesterday. It was weird. Apparently, they’ve rolled out more changes so my profile looks different. I totally missed out on everyone changing their profile pictures for marriage equality; though I’ve changed mine now (better late than never, right?). I’ve responded to messages that were weeks old as well as to things that were specifically on my profile, but I didn’t want to waste time going back to see whatever I’d missed.
Truth be told, aside from the regular posts by my dear mentor, Ruth, about being a newlywed while transitioning into retirement, I don’t think I missed much. Ruth’s posts usually make my day brighter, and even though we don’t see each other nearly enough, I still feel connected enough to her through Facebook to rejoice along with her.
I’m sorry if my other Facebook friends read this and feel left out because I didn’t “miss” your posts. But in all honesty, look at your activity. If you’re anything like I was before the hiatus, many of you are probably liking, sharing, and commenting with reckless abandon. How much of that goes deeper than engaging in virtual comment wars, and entertainment or gossip related communication? Do we really need to see photos of every single morsel of food you consume? And I can’t tell you how many dirty mirrors people are taking photos of themselves in. The nation is obviously in need of reduced Windex and Bounty prices to take care of the dirty mirror epidemic in our overly narcissistic culture.
This may come across as judgmental, and that’s not my intention. Before my hiatus, I was doing all of these things. I was using Facebook multiple times a day, convincing myself that I was “connected” to my “friends” by my activity on the site. But when I took a few steps back and had to put both time and thoughtful attention to letter writing, I realized how meaningless my Facebook activity was. And though I know several of my Facebook friends have my phone number, no one seemed to have a deep need to call me and share their meals or cute outfits. As someone who literally despises talking on the phone, I certainly didn’t feel the urge to do the same either.
These reflections have absolutely motivated me to change the way I participate in social media. While I’m technically back on Facebook, I’ll be changing a few things. Before I left Facebook, I used Runtastic for fitness tracking, and that was set to share all my fitness activities to my Facebook feed. And almost immediately before I left Facebook, I created a Goodreads profile. While I was away, I added more to Goodreads, and I switched from Runtastic to Daily Mile for fitness tracking.
Goodreads and Daily Mile are more positive uses of social media than Facebook because Goodreads encourages reading and discussion of books, and Daily Mile is an incredibly user-friendly and motivating way to track fitness activities I will definitely continue to use those forms of social media because they are much more positive influences on my personal development. As for cross-posting those activities to Facebook, I think I’ll refrain. First, I have links to both profiles conveniently located in the margins of this blog, and curious followers & readers are only one click away from checking my reading list or running stats. Secondly and more importantly, just as I was bent out of shape (i.e., painfully envious) of several friends’ pregnancy updates, I don’t want to create the same feelings in my friends who may not have the time or energy to read/exercise as much as I am right now. It’s there for the interested, and it’s still just as public as Facebook; but it won’t be flaunted about the same way.
As for my activity on Facebook, I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to go, and I don’t have any specific goals in mind. I don’t know if I’ll check it every day (though that is tempting). I’m certain I’ll keep my current setting of not receiving notifications and messages via my cell phone; so Facebook may not be the best way to reach me with time-sensitive requests. I will definitely continue to cross-post updates from this blog. I’m also sure I’ll post status updates, though I’m not exactly sure with what or how frequently, given my current thoughts on the issue.
Essentially I’ve come to realize that Facebook is virtual graffiti of our current culture. As such, it plays a significant role in understanding who we are as humans in this specific time and place of existence. But I would rather my Facebook feed be more than the self-absorption and consumption already overwhelmingly present from millions of others on the site. I want to offer more than that to anthropologists and virtual archaeologists who may dig through it all in 4,000 C.E. I want to make meaningful contributions to posterity with both my actual life and my virtual one. I think all of that may still be just as narcissistic as a self portrait in a dirty mirror; but my hope is that my Facebook feed will have more substance than what I was contributing before Lent.
How did your Lent go?
Just over a week ago, Jim over at The Running Father Blog posted a callout for transpersonal testimonies, and I took the bait. What follows is my personal testimony…of faith and doubt, of a childhood steeped in fear and abuse, of an adult living with the fallout, of many deaths, and of surviving.
Stages of Development
According to Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Human Development, the first thing we learn is either to trust or to mistrust. The easiest example is a parent responding to an infant’s cries. Whether the baby is hungry, tired, or needing a diaper change, the baby has a need, and it is communicating that need with shrill wails. If the parent responds to the baby’s cry with feeding, holding, or changing, then the baby learns to trust that the parent will provide and care for its needs. However, if the parent lets the baby wail and does not feed, hold, or change it, then the baby learns that it cannot trust the parent.
Because the parent is literally the whole world for a baby, this lesson of mistrust then influences the baby’s worldview (and according to Erikson, the potential for successfully mastering the subsequent stages of development as they come up). The subsequent stages of development are: autonomy vs. shame (in the toilet training timeframe), initiative vs. guilt (preschool aged), industry vs. inferiority (primary school aged), identity vs. role confusion (adolescence), intimacy vs. isolation (in young adulthood), generativity vs. stagnation (in middle age), and finally ego integrity vs. despair (in elder years).
It’s fairly safe to say that I was on the losing end of these stages until at least elementary school or adolescence. I essentially survived my childhood as best as I could, and my saving grace in my early life was being in school. Once I learned to count, I counted everything…all the time. Then once I learned to read (in Head Start), and was able to bring books home (in elementary school), I read…all the time. Counting and reading transported me from an unstable, scary home situation into a world of order, patterns, and escapism. Of course my parents, siblings, and school kids thought I was freakish for being a space cadet, tuning everything (and everyone) out most of the time and that I was a lazy loner for choosing to read alone over hanging out with the neighborhood kids.
By the time I was 11, I had a bike, interests of my own, and I had learned to avoid home at all costs, and that’s how I survived. Considering the trauma in my formative years, it’s no wonder I have a hard time trusting people even now, or the gravity of things I walk around with daily. I know I’m lucky to have survived my childhood, and I’m luckier still that I’m not locked away in an institution, either mental or prison. That’s not an exaggeration. I’m literally a statistical anomaly considering my socioeconomic, dysfunctional background.
Of course I’ve been to a variety of therapists, and you know what they say? All of them? “Well, you’re quite well adjusted!” No fucking shit, Sherlock. That I haven’t succumbed to homicidal rages, been successful with suicide, or fallen into the abyss of criminality either means I’m a moderately high functioning sociopath…or I’m okay in spite of everything I’ve experienced.
Snake Oil Salvation
When you take a young girl with my history and add an element of charismatic, evangelical Christianity to the mix, what you end with is a girl who’s suffered unspeakable things thinking she was born damned into the world and deserving of her tragic lot in life. And that’s a goddamned shame.
Drawn to Christianity’s promise of eternal love, I ran to, begged, and pleaded with God to save me…or to let me die. I remember being nine years old and literally praying to God to let me die so I didn’t have to live anymore. (WHAT THE FUCK, INDEED?) But with the resilience that ONLY comes from youth, I embraced the concept of eternal salvation; and I became a proselytizing, evangelical Christian teenager. I channeled all my anger and fear into rigid religious fervor. But I still had questions, so I read the Bible, and I took Biblical courses at church.
When God never rescued me despite all my trying and learning and in the depths of my despair, I chose to let myself die and attempted suicide at sixteen. Though I survived, I think part of me did die then. I’ve felt very much in-between ever since, partly alive and partly dead. I was both corporeal and ethereal at the same time. Some might say I was fragile (they have). I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say there’s a single fragile thing about me, then or now. I’m as hard and cold as a corpse, and it takes an unbelievable level of effort to force myself to be warm with people.
I had even more questions about faith, and I was desperate for a loving community, so I chose a Christian college when I was lucky enough to have the opportunity. College. Well, it really was the best of times and worst of times. I went through an early marriage, miscarriage, and divorce all before graduating in four years…with two majors… three part time jobs…and a chip on my shoulder the size of Alaska. I was villainized by some for mustering the courage to hold my head up and for bouncing back after the divorce. I was publicly humiliated for wearing a Kerry/Edwards t-shirt while cleaning in the cafeteria on voting day. You read things like Jane Eyre and Great Expectations, or anything by Flannery O’Connor, and you think despicable people like that can’t possibly exist in real life. I’m telling you, I’ve met more than one Bible salesman willing to steal a wooden leg!
As rough as it was, college was also a period of awakening and of finding the deep love of a Christian community, when I wasn’t angry at it, of course. My friends and I would walk barefoot by Buffalo Creek quoting Adam Bede, writing songs, and living out our social justice in the form of hospitality for one another. I never locked my doors. I always left my keys in my car for any of my friends to use as they needed. I never knew if people would be in my apartment…or not. I never claimed ownership over much, but I also never went without anything I needed. I ate well. All my bills were paid…in spite of the money I had or didn’t. It was faith inspired socialism, and it was so beautiful. We lived out the miracle of the loaves and fishes in my last couple of years at college, and it sustained me on more than just material levels.
With my college experiences, my questions about faith only grew, and I became more vocal about my universalist leanings. And then I went to seminary. I realize now that probably wasn’t the best route for me; but I was fresh out of college and not ready to leave my community…so I went to the seminary on the holy hill across the street. I only stayed a year.
In seminary, I gained a love of textual criticism, early Christian tradition, liturgy and ritual, Biblical languages, and early American Christian History, but my doubts than any of it was real, meaningful, or nourishing had also become overwhelming. So I took some time away from church when I left seminary.
In the four years after leaving seminary, I tried going back to church several times, but I just couldn’t. I tried the Methodists because I love John Wesley. I tried the Episcopalians because they drink and have great senses of humor…about faith…and life. The most pleasantly sarcastic people I know are Episcopalian. I strongly considered joining an Episcopal church here in Knoxville, but my husband and I were the youngest people in the congregation by at least a few decades, so the search was still on for a spiritual community.
Dark Night of the Soul
In those same four years after seminary, I struggled in the typical post-collegiate ways. I was overworked, grossly abused by my employer, underpaid, and had no benefits at all. And then I quit that job and struggled with unemployment. But wait…there’s more! To deal with…gosh everything in my life, I started taking an anti-depressant while working for said abusive employer. I was on it a whole month before I quit that job. With all my medical experience, I figured it was okay to just stop taking it. It had only been a month, right? Biggest mistake of my whole life. Ever.
I don’t remember much about the month of November, 2007. I am deeply ashamed of everything I put my husband (then boyfriend) through at that time, but I also know I wasn’t really in control of what was happening. I’m going to blame it all on very bad judgment and quitting my new medication so suddenly (because taking someone with so many demons and fucking with their brain chemistry that way is a disaster just waiting to happen). And it was a disaster.
Some people have a period of depression after confronting (and being consumed with) religious doubt and life struggles. It’s normal, really. But ever the over-achiever, I actually had a certifiable mental breakdown. My beloved took me to the doctor, told him I was broken and lost and not the woman he fell in love with, and he asked for the help that I couldn’t ask for. It took me over a year of taking the right dosage of the right medication to level my brain back out, and the process of figuring out that perfect cocktail was a nightmare all on its own (for me and especially for Daniel).
When I felt better and stronger, I told my doctor I wanted to go off the meds; and I’ve been successfully off of them since early 2009. But I’m not the same. I don’t know that I’ll ever be the same. Maybe part of me died then, too. In all the things I’d been through, I had never experienced debilitating anxiety like I have since living on the flip side of that coin. The constant tentativeness and fear that seems to follow me around since then are like stormy clouds always on the horizon, or a flock of dark pixies overjoyed at my torment.
In the summer of 2010, I started going back to church. I was so skittish. And they let me be. They let me stay on the edges as long as I needed. Even now, they don’t judge me for the times I’m the Roadrunner out the door after service. Or, if they do, they love me the same anyway, and that’s all that really matters. They preach love, and they practice social justice. They care for the people in the margins. They give space and time and validation to people who are experiencing moments of brokenness, and they offer healing to all who would take it. They are made up of people who’ve been rejected and hurt by their loved ones as well as by the Church. They’re religious scholars with rich theology. They embrace and use liturgy regularly, and I’m sure services are planned; but no one gets bent out of shape when something goes awry. I dare say no music leader is as quick with the witty, musical improvisation as ours! And the children’s/youth’s presence in the congregation and service sets the most beautiful example for us as adults.
Along with my return to a spiritual community, I began practicing yoga in October 2010. It really did start as a practical alternative to physical therapy. But it became the first way I ever learned to be comfortable in my own body and mind. I learned to breathe. I learned to be still without relying on obsessive counting, or escaping through literature. I became physically stronger, and then I became inspired…to see what I could do…to learn what challenges I could overcome.
Last year for Lent, I started practicing yoga every day, and so many unexpected obstacles arose. Uncontrollable crying. Anger. Shaking. A return of nightmares, sometimes night terrors. I think my body was finally experiencing a delayed reaction of sorts to all the pain that had been inflicted upon it. And then last summer a friend committed suicide. In my emotional rawness and because of my own near-miss as well as our communication just a couple days before it happened, it hit me and left me down for the count. I gave myself time to grieve, and then I started moving on before I drowned in it. I went back to church, kept up with my yoga practice, added running, and started practicing Buddhist metta meditation.
I’d say I’m still in the process of reclaiming my life. I still cry sometimes when I do certain yoga poses. When I run, listening to loud, screaming types of music, I feel like my whole body is exercising/exorcising out all of my demons. I’m mostly sleepless, unless it’s out of sheer physical exhaustion. And sometimes it’s hard to shake the negative thoughts from my mind. But I’m still active in my spiritual community. I continue in my yoga & meditation practices, and I’m getting better at running every single day. I journal my reactions to life and culture here on this blog. In reading it, I sincerely hope this stage of my life is as inspiring as it is for me to be living it. Because as hard as all of this is, it’s all worth it.
So what am I? What do I believe? What is good or evil? What is my salvation?
Because our culture likes labels, I guess I’m a Post-Traumatic, Post-Evangelical, Post-Fundamentalist, Post-Academic, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Yogi. I wouldn’t say I’m a mystic because of my cynicism; but I’m probably more authentically mystic than all the people rushing to India to kiss the feet of their gurus and get new names. The very definition of mysticism, as Wikipedia goes, is “the pursuit of, communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct, or insight.” Yup, I’d say I’m probably a mystic; but I don’t dig the talk of chakras or of chanting, or of faith healing. So I’m a cynical mystic as well as a statistical anomaly. Somehow that all seems fitting.
Similarly, the term “charismatic” takes me back to the scary days of life in a Pentecostal church with speaking in tongues, demon possession, and spiritual warfare. I would absolutely say I am not charismatic at all. But the literal and original meaning of charisma is “grace,” and were it not for receiving the grace of all the people who’ll have me, I’d be completely alone in this world.
What is good and evil? Well, I’m an expert at evil, so I’ll start there. Evil is anything that tells us “I am me, and you are you.” If “I am me,” then that means I exist outside of “you.” It means that we are different. It means I can pass righteous judgment on you and you on me. It means I create a sense of self and a sense of other. As long as I have a sense of self and a sense of other, I can debase whatever is “other.” This is the foundation of poverty and war, which are also evil. It is the foundation of thinking one person can own another person and therefore treat “their” people however they please, which is usually to say abuse. And its result…well its result is utter separation, which is hell. Good, on the other hand, is the coming together of You and Me. It is the abandonment of the sense of self and the sense of other. It is the connection of all living things. It is love and charity, grace and peace. It is salvation.
And what of salvation? Well my salvation is Jane Eyre, and all of Dickens’ orphan tales. It’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Jane Austen. My salvation is The Smashing Pumpkins, Sarah McLachlan, and Mumford & Sons. It’s absolutely yoga, running, and meditating. It’s Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. It’s the Mandelbrot set and MC Escher’s Relativity. It’s the Buddha and Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Today and specifically in my life, my salvation is Son’Cia Humphries, Meghan Sizemore, John Henderson, Mr. Owens, Ms. Rhoton & Mr. Wilson, Dr. Ruth Lavender, Dr. Jill LeRoy Frazier, Marvin Glover, Brittany Love, Evelyn Tachau Brown, Judson Nichols, John Gill, Leslie Etheridge, Victoria Medaglia, Ceil Sheahan, Sam Rosolina, Marcia Free & Fred Martinson, and Jim & Sandy Foster. It’s my beloved Daniel and his truly long-suffering love. It’s all the things and people that help me know I’m not alone…that I’m connected. My salvation keeps an eye on me in the moments I’m not able to look out for myself. It challenges me and makes me stronger. It holds me accountable to my vow to love myself.
This post covers my transpersonal journey to this point, which is almost 30 years old. It may seem too short a time to have lived through so much. But I’ve died a few times in the process, and I see it more as if I’ve just lived a few different times even if it’s only in this one lifetime. I’ve certainly had a plentiful serving of tragedy, but I’m living in the midst of the happiest time of my life, which is more than making up for all the doom and gloom.
Last year’s observance of Lent was primarily physical, though practicing Yogic Lent was definitely a catalyst for more than physical changes in my life. This year I just can’t make the same sacrifices of fasting and daily yoga practice because I’m in the midst of training for my first half-marathon. I’m running four times a week, with core training and exercises to condition me in the pursuit of becoming a more efficient endurance runner. I start my third week of training tomorrow, and looking at the next two-weeks of training, it’s going to take everything I have just to meet my own goals. So, it’s just plain unrealistic for me to observe Lent the same way I did last year and reach my half-marathon goals. And that’s okay. People go through seasons, and I’m learning to become more flexible with accepting the inevitable changes of life.
This year I’ve decided to reflect on what I do with my time. As a writer, I spend quite a lot of time communicating with words, whether at work where I research and write full time, or volunteering with PIET part-time. Then there’s the blog you’re currently reading, which I fit in when/where I can. These are all useful types of writing. They challenge me to hone my skills, almost constantly; and the variety of writing forces me to develop a range to cover diverse topics.
But when I compare all of these types of writing with what I write (and read) on Facebook, it’s obvious that I could invest my time better. The only benefit to social media sites like Facebook is that they’re social. They attempt to connect people; and in some ways, they succeed. Social media is a great way for family and friends who are separated by countries to stay in each others’ daily lives. But that same type of communication with local friends seems less genuine, and it is certainly less necessary. So to use my time on more skillful types of writing, while also maintaining a social media of sorts, I have set Facebook aside, and I will spend Lent 2013 writing Lenten Letters.
I got the idea for Lenten Letters in a Facebook post by a recent new friend from church. I absolutely loved the idea of a daily letter writing discipline! (Please let me channel Jane Austen!) And Lent is the PERFECT time to start.
I have a collection of friends from college on the mailing list as well as new friends in Knoxville and even complete strangers in my church community. My most long-standing friendships are among college alums, and with several thousand miles among all of us, it’s no wonder we’ve lost touch. With those letters, I hope to cultivate rich ground that’s been lying fallow for too long.
I’m not entirely certain how to approach the new friendships and strangers just yet, and I’m looking forward to a recommended book on the lost art of letter writing for helpful tips. Because she inspired the whole idea, Wendy is up for the first letter, and all I know at this point is that I’m making her a mixed cd because I’m just not sure where or how to start.
Community Life & More Friendship Redefined
This Lenten practice has already challenged my perspective on what “community” is as well as what friendship is. Why are people “friends” with me on Facebook? In one of my very first blog posts, I touched on this topic, and I’m sure I’ll be exploring it more as I make my way to Easter. As a result of that post, I did a mass cleansing of my friend list and “unfriended” over 400 people. Since then I’ve tried to keep the number between 100 and 160, and I’ve noticed the number creeping up again since I’ve become more involved in my community. I’ve added mostly church friends, some yoga friends, and some running friends. But especially with these new local friends, what does it mean for us to be “friends” on Facebook?
Again, what does “friendship” mean? What does it require? Are there implied and unstated commitments? Do we have a cheap friendship because it’s easy for us to “like” one another’s status updates, while it seems so very hard to find the time to meet face-to-face for coffee or a walk? And what does the Facebook style of communication do for friendship? Do you really care about the cute cat videos I’ve posted; or what of the Buddhism quotes or political rants?
Since I keep my friends list fairly streamlined to college alums, some family, and local friends, I don’t feel weird about the times I’ve shared personal status updates because everyone on my friends list actually knows me personally. It’s actually been a source of comfort and strength especially with friends who live miles away and would prefer to know when I’m struggling. But then again being so sincere and authentic in such a superficial format seems more than just a little awkward at times. I have friends I feel closer to now because of our Facebook friendship than I ever did when we were living in the same community in college. But then when I consider my two “best friends,” I couldn’t tell you the last time I spoke with them on the phone or saw them in person. Granted, they both live over 100 miles away, but that only illustrates the point further: how are they my “best friends” when I rarely communicate with them?
Maybe Facebook is a good way to initiate a real-world friendship for people who prefer to stay on the margins. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, it is much more comfortable for me to read about someone than it is to actually interact in person. So am I using Facebook as a crutch…as a way to keep people at a comfortable distance? Yes, that is very likely, and that will be just one of the challenges I face this Lent. If I want to develop and maintain friendships…real life friendships…then I need to make these people a priority. But then how do I do that when I work full-time, volunteer part-time, and struggle along with endurance training? Scheduling the time to write seems to be easier than scheduling time to meet, and maybe the Lenten Letters project will serve as a way to preserve quality communication while considering my own time constraints as well as my friends’ busy lives.
Today’s COS Meditation
This first Sunday of Lent marked a return to weekly worship for me. With working on weekends, being iced in, and getting used to a challenging new physical & sleeping routine, I’ve missed several weekly services since the beginning of the year. I’m glad to be back, and today’s meditation was so perfect for the first Sunday of Lent. That it focused on being in community with others also made the service all the more appropriate, considering my Lenten objective.
The Call to Worship was the following call & response:
L: We have made a covenant with God and with one another,
P: To walk our spiritual journeys together,
L: To be an inclusive Christian church,
P: To manifest the love of God toward all people and all creation.
L: As pilgrims, we are not certain what awaits us along the way,
P: But we believe,
L: We believe,
All: We believe that the God of Unbounded Love walks with us, guides us and sustains us.
The pastor then spent Children’s Time explaining to the kids and congregation that when Jesus sent the disciples out (Luke 9:1-6), he sent them as pairs. The kids offered up great responses as to why they might need to stick together: to survive, to prevent from going crazy by being alone, to help with directions, in case one of them got sick, etc.
The congregational response to the Gospel reading was from Hebrews:
Seeing that we are surrounded
By so great a cloud of witnesses,
Let us run with perseverance
The race that is set before us,
Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
I love that they followed this with an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” and then the pastor shared his meditation about how we are “Better Together.” The meditation started with describing how Jesus spent his 40 days in the wilderness, upon which we build the practice of observing Lent. And Jesus’ time in the wilderness was alone.
Isn’t it easy for us to be alone? Isn’t it easy to convince ourselves that we’re cut off…that no one else out there gets it? It’s what drives us away from real-life community with others to the virtual world and community with anonymous people. Being alone breeds self-righteousness because no one else is around to hold us accountable. It makes us ignorant for lack of skillful interaction with others. It’s what makes us stay cooped up in depression and self-loathing. So many of us (myself included) fall into this trap of singleness. We convince ourselves that we are alone, and then we are alone.
The pastor explained how Satan tempted Jesus to rise up (alone) to take control or fix everything. But Jesus resisted, and then he rejoined his disciples. And when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the Gospel, he sent them in pairs. He knew the disciples needed to stick together, perhaps from his time alone in the wilderness, but maybe also from a lifetime of feeling that no one else could relate to him. Or, sending the disciples out in pairs could have just been a totally practical thing in the Ancient Near Eastern world. Whatever the reason and whatever the benefit, it all leads back to us being better together.
The service’s closing prayer was adapted from a prayer by Ted Loder
L: Holy One, this Lent, in the weeks ahead, let something essential happen within us and among us, change us in some way that really matters; a change that will turn us toward one another and move us to share tears and laughter, and to dare the dangerous deeds of your Love together.
All: This Lent, in the weeks ahead, let something new happen within us and among us; something which is the awakening of your Love in our midst. Amen.
….and I really hope that happens for me this Lent.
If you’d like a Lenten Letter, please send me an email with your mailing address at c(dot)mayes(dot)sanangelo(at)gmail(dot)com. I am sending some international letters too, so don’t let that stop you!