Ashes of Hope: My Love of Lent but Not of Murder on a Cross (PLUS 40 Days of Sustainability coming soon)

Even the winter won’t last forever. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
We’ll wake up in April, ready and able, Sowing the seeds in the soil.
Even the darkness cannot disarm us. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
-Audrey Assad

Easter is what many would argue to be the quintessential turning point of the Christian faith. The crux. The climax of the story. The thing that you must be able to articulate into carefully formed sentences depicting your belief, as though words and theology solely define your spirituality and very existence. Perhaps from all of this lies the basis for the trite messages that I, along with so many others, have heard about the Christian faith. “Jesus died for your sins.” “Jesus paid the debt.” “Jesus stood in your place and died for you so that you might have life.”

And if those words bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away, nor discredit them.

It’s just not the Jesus I’ve come to know, face-to-face in my human spiritual struggle. 

The Jesus I’ve come to know didn’t die at the hands of a blood-thirsty, vampire-like God who needs to see someone murdered in order to forgive people. The Jesus I’ve come to know, and the God to whom he points, is a rebel. A revolutionary who challenged the privileged and elevated the marginalized. Who spoke out of turn, unafraid to make people think harder about themselves and the world around them. Who taught us to slow down long enough from our exhausted minds to “look at the birds and flowers,” and to be a visionary in whatever issue your culture is facing.
Direct from the mouth of this revolutionary contains the most gripping parts of the Eastertide story, in my experience. The pieces that I rarely heard pastors and Bible study leaders quote. The part where Jesus, our supposed role model, screams up at God, “My God, My God, Why have you screwed me like this?”  Because that’s life, that’s reality. That’s the affirmation I look for when I’m stuck in the mud and mire and all around me are hope-depleted apertures crying out for just a flick of mercy from a kind and loving God, begging for auspices that come from this Divine Light. And to hear Jesus utter these same words gives me confidence that I am in good company when I am in the thick of the squall and my once blithe heart feels incapable of coming back to me. When I’m a low that low, that’s when I know I’m only a few steps out from mercy. Because we, like Jesus, get to experience the surge of joy that is the resurrection, ashes of hope that sing of redemption.

I think these ashes of hope are what the soul longs for. Beyond a good love story, a good hope story. To know that all of our troubles will not be squandered, but used for fodder to keep these tales of beauty-from-pain alive. To give us the fortitude to know, anchored in our core, that it doesn’t matter what comes our way, for it won’t last forever. But the feelings of hope and the aftermath of beauty will hit us so viscerally that we tear up at the thought, “I didn’t know life could be this good.”

This is why I haven’t given up on Lent or Easter, despite some of my theological wrestlings and frustrations with the traditional teachings of this spiritual season. Lent draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. A 40 day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring. During those 40 days, shoots on trees develop, buds blossom to form magnolia flowers- my absolute favorite tree on this planet that reminds me there is no cold that cannot be endured to eventually give way to life. The sun graces us for 2.5 minutes longer each day, until we’ve accumulated some 177.5 minutes of additional daylight come Easter evening, thanks, largely in part, to Daylight Savings Time. (Can you tell yet that spring is my favorite season and consumes many of my thoughts?)

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Copyright MO 2013

And so I don’t know where your heart is this season. Maybe it’s hiding in guilt and shame, underneath a veil of many coverings, because you feel it has gone so far awry from any sort of “straight and narrow.” Maybe your heart is parched, longing for a bit of this hope story. Or maybe your heart abounds in a joy so full, that it might cry droplets of gratitude onto baby seedlings that will soon lean their faces toward the sun for the first time. But one thing I do know, as we forge into spring, is that all around you, life begs your soul to awaken, and if it cannot awaken on its own, let its colours take you to places unknown until hope uncovers and your soul sees vibrant hues ablaze in beauty.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over the hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
-Mumford and Sons

    

Coming tomorrow: My 40 Day Sustainability Plan- Come observe Lent through environmental social justice

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For the Moments I Disappointment Myself (We Begin Again in Love)

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Copyright MO 2014

Recently, I’ve been catching myself reflecting on my actions, attitudes, and behavior with disappointment and disgust. I’m the one who, at 18 years old, vowed never to live my life out of step with my values, who vowed to always live with passion and bring life into the world. Because I knew what it was like to almost lose it after falling asleep at the wheel, totaling my car one July evening shortly after graduating high school. I glanced heavenward in prayer that dark night, my soul in chaotic communion with God, claiming with ardor that I would live it right. Not take a breath for granted. I took my heart by the hand in firm grip. “You’re going to be passionate. Keep your complaints to a minimum. And above all, you’re going to take this life, and love it, and love others,” I declared, releasing my flexed, pointed finger and gritted teeth. I then proceed to cry, turning my fuming fingers into open palms, and slowly rested my tear-drenched face into them, learning a lesson on self-compassion and how absolutely compulsory it is.

So when I have days like today, days where I’m so aware of my slights, my transgressions, missed opportunities for sincerely listening to and loving those around me… when I’m acutely attuned to the cloudy mind I’m allowing myself to get sucked into, instead of opening it to the beautiful mess and joy around me, I celebrate one of the greatest strengths that life has to offer: its elasticity. The supple forgiveness it offers to simply begin again. And again. And again and again until the time clock of our individual lifespan wears thin. That whole “it’s never too late to be the person you wish to become” thing. Yes. I celebrate that people forgive. And I also celebrate that in order to truly drink in the forgiveness of others, I must also forgive myself. I must learn— though it’s ok to forget and re-learn over and over again— to return the next day with eyes opened wide, glance looking forward or upward, not down in crestfallen shame. And sure as winter, I will repeat this cycle countless times, but the observing, learning, and practicing piece of forgiveness makes it possible to begin again.

It’s moments like these when I’m reminded of a closing prayer we once read when I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church:

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For losing sight of our unity,
we forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.
For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of separateness,
we forgive ourselves and each other;

we begin again in love.

-Robert Eller-Isaacs

I look out the window at the moon singing to the night sky and snowy hills and valleys below. Tomorrow, every color known to humankind will show up again, somewhere. People who cried yesterday will laugh today. A lonely wander will find solace in the smile of another stranger. And I, too, will rise anew to begin again in love.

25 Things I Will Stop Feeling Guilty About.

Because sometimes life choices are hard.

Because sometimes life choices are hard to make. And guilt only makes them harder. Copyright: MO, Illinois 2008

          

His words struck me. Just like his lyrics. And his 360 tour.

“I think it was guilt that made Elvis lose the will to live. Yet in the scripture there is another line: ‘There is, therefore no condemnation for those who are in God’ (Rom. 8:1). There is no guilt. Guilt is not of God. It is a false teaching,”
-Bono, in “Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2” by Steve Stockman

So I’m ready now.
Ready to walk away from the dust clouds of guilt and shame into the wide open fields where we can roll down hills, free and unraveled…

Here it goes…

25. Wanting to keep my last name.

24. Not wanting kids/not wanting biological kids/not being sure if I don’t want kids (depends on the day of the week, it seems).

23. Wanting my hypothetical offspring to have a family last name that either A) combines my last name and my husband’s or B) for my husband to “allow” us to keep my last name for our kids (that I’m not even sure I’m having, mind you).

22. Not reading my Bible. 

21. My adult sexuality (if you want to know what that means, ask me; I realize that’s vague). 

20. Taking anti-anxiety medication.

19. Not having my graduate degree yet.

18. For spending money on things that delight me and bring life to my life: travel, yoga, juicy mangoes, dark chocolate, and bicycle parts.

17. Sniff-testing my clothes when I don’t know if they are clean or dirty.

16. Subbing dry shampoo and extra deo for showers when time for showers is short.

15. For still thinking toilet humor is funny.

14. Not desiring marriage right now. Or next year. Or maybe even 5 years from now. Who knows.

13. Wanting my partner and I to do mutual proposals to each other… or to one day, be sitting on a swing, in a park, enjoying the fresh air, holding each other’s hands, staring each other into the eyes, and finally, each say to the other, “Hey, you wanna get married?”

12. For being pescatarian instead of vegetarian.

11. Not tithing 10% of my meager income (or 5% for that matter).

10. The amount of time I spend triathlon training. It’s my place to be who I was made to be. And we all need those places.

9. Not wanting to be friends with everybody I meet. Not liking everyone I meet.

8. Referring to God in the female form sometimes (i.e. “Mother” instead of “Father” or “She” instead of “He.” This is why you’ll often see “S/He” in my posts about God).

7. Letting people know that it offends me when they use the word “retarded” or “gay” to mean derogatory things.

6. For having dreams and not being sure how to get there.

5. For changing my mind.

4. For speaking up and ruffling feathers instead of shrinking in my seat in fear.

3. For being an outspoken gender equality advocate.

2. For not always following my own advice.

1. Writing this post, unabashed, and free.