This, too, shall pass

I recently found myself in a bout of happiness.

It was the little-things brand of happiness: when you look at the evergreen outside, you smile. Instead of tiredly avoiding conversation, you get excited to see your friends and acquaintances. You accomplish something, maybe even something small like checking your email without falling down an internet rabbit hole, and you feel truly accomplished. A cup of tea warms more than your body. Soft socks feel soothing. A phone-call with your family leaves you grateful rather than homesick. You dance to music because you feel so good you need to move. You can’t stop smiling. And sometimes, you don’t need a reason at all – you are just happy.

But I’ve got the pronouns wrong – it’s me that’s been feeling this. don’t need a reason at all – I am just happy. What a gift. About halfway through the first day of my first “bout,” when I found myself smiling at the sun coming through my window and laughing because I was so relieved at how easy it was to smile, I said something that may, at first, seem counter-productive or a little cynical. “This, too, shall pass,” I told myself. “This won’t last forever.”

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Usually those are words I reserve for my heaviest moments, the ones that sit on my back and breathe down my neck, or the starkest moments, the ones that suck all the color out of the world and flatten it. “This, too, shall pass,” I say. To give myself hope. “This won’t last forever.” You will make it through to the other side.

But this impermanence is no less true of a smile than it is of a sigh. And while acknowledging that fact may sound defeatist or ungrateful, for me, it was just the opposite.

This, too, shall pass. So don’t worry about holding on and making it last forever. Simply receive the moment as a gift.

This, too, shall pass. Embrace this moment for all it’s worth because it only lasts for a heartbeat.

This, too, shall pass. Because all things pass. Because you are alive – a dynamic being. To live is to breathe in and out, to be happy, to be sad, to love, to hurt, to laugh, to sob, to embrace, to push away.

This, too, shall pass. You are not required to keep yourself locked in this one place, this one experience. You will feel sad again. And that does not mean you will have have failed. It simply means you are alive. You are not required to feel happy indefinitely.

English speakers have been attempting to sort out the difference between “happiness” and “joy” for as long as English has been a language. And people have sought to understand the concepts long before that. Is one a feeling and one a way of being?  Can you have joy without happiness? Happiness without joy? What does it mean to be joyful if you’re not happy? What does joy mean in the first place?

A few weeks ago I was at the Calvin Worship Symposium, attending a seminar called “Prophetic Lament” in which writers and pastors discussed the necessity of lament in our spiritual practices. One panel member, Danjuma Gibson, talked about the tendency to hurry out of spaces of grief and pain. “But I’m not sure that lament is the opposite of joy,” he said. “I see it as a particular embodiment of joy.” He went on to define joy as “the divine, eternal conviction that, no matter what, I am somebody in God’s creation.” For Gibson, joy is confidence in the existence of my relationship to the Creator and God’s good creation, the faith that I am alive and breathing and beloved. Lament, he said, when rooted in this conviction – this faith, this joy – is the choice to make my place in the world known and heard. Heard by God – and heard by myself.

Happiness, with this definition of joy, is actually not so different from lament. Happiness is also the choice to make my place in the world known and heard. Depression tends to take away my capacity to understand my place in the world and to lift up my voice in any kind of meaningful way. It numbs me. The lifting of depression opens my capacity for all kinds of feelings.

When both happiness and lament are rooted in joy, in the faith of my being beloved by God, I don’t have worry about the passing of any particular emotion. These, too, will pass, even as the conviction of my place in God’s creation remains the same. My bout of happiness did come to an end and was replaced with a gloomy, tired couple of days. But the gloomy days ended, too, and I am smiling at small things once again.

And this, too, will pass. But what a gift this being alive thing is.

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Water is Life

I got this swooping, sinking, rushing feeling when I saw my professor’s facebook post.  He was planning to answer the call for clergy to come to Standing Rock next week, he said.  And would any students like to join him.

I didn’t really want to go.  I knew what camping in the freezing cold was like.  I’d seen the videos of violence against protesters.  I had a full schedule in the week ahead.  And I felt woefully unprepared.  But something deeper than desire and stronger than fear rose up within me and whispered, “Go!”

So I emailed my various supervisors and professors and asked if arrangements could be made for me to miss 4 days of work and classes, a not-insignificant part of me hoping they would say “no.”  But they didn’t.  They told me that this was an important opportunity and that they would make things work.  And the whisper inside me grew bolder and said, “Go.”

I decided to sleep on it and pray for guidance and had a very distressing but unhelpful dream about biking across Europe in the autumn and falling over on 3 person a bicycle into a mud pit.  The morning found me both weary and wired.  And the voice raised itself up inside me and shouted, “Go!” I knew that if I silenced that voice, I would silence something essential in me.  Call it my conscience, my vocation, a sense of justice, the Holy Spirit living in me – more than I wanted to stay home, I wanted to listen to that call and stand with those who needed allies.

There are several camps now at Standing Rock, all working toward the same purpose: halt the death-dealing black snake of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This pipeline and the oil it carries represents disregard for native lives and well-being, a threat to water sources, and a victory for big oil companies rather than a move toward sustainable energy solutions.  The Water Protectors (the preferred term, rather than protesters) have been using non-violent forms of resistance to call attention to the unjust and unethical practices of the pipeline construction.

This past week, a call was made to clergy all over the nation to join the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and stand in solidarity.  This is a crucial time for the work against the pipeline.  Violence and force from law enforcement is increasing, winter weather is beginning to set in, and the tribes gathered at Standing Rock need our support.

I am going with 11 other Garrett-Evangelical students, professors, and alums, as well as 2 non-seminary-affiliated folks.  We’re joining clergy and people of faith and people of no faith from all over the country to stand with those at Standing Rock.  We’ll be leaving Tuesday, arriving in Cannonball, North Dakota, on Wednesday, and participating in the clergy solidarity action on Thursday.  We’ll make the long trek back on Friday.  We ask for your prayers for strength, wisdom, peace, and justice.

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Behind that tiny word “Go!” are so many convictions that God has grown in me over the years:

  • God made the world and made it good (Gen. 1)
  • God includes the whole earth in God’s vision for community and justice (Lev. 25, Isaiah 11)
  • In the incarnation, Jesus was born, lived, died, and resurrected as a human, fleshy body who walked on this physical earth – in the incarnation, God affirms the goodness of Creation and brings the whole world into the redemption story (John 1, Romans 8).
  • All of Creation will be made whole (Romans 8, Isaiah 65).
  • Our God is One of justice and mercy, and God stands with the oppressed and the marginalized (Matthew 25, Luke 18, Isaiah 1 and 58).

I go to Standing Rock because of the God I serve and the kingdom of God that I am called to join.  I ask you to join your hearts and prayers to mine, and together we will work for the good of all God’s people and land.

More information from those on the ground about the history and situation:

http://standwithstandingrock.net/history/

This article is a couple months old, but it gives good background information:

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/09/26/sierra-club-no-dapl

If you have very warm winter gear – coats, boots, tents, sleeping bags, etc. – or hygiene items that you want to send with me, let me know.  Here are other ways to help:

http://act.350.org/sign/stop-dakota-access-pipeline?akid=s197373..Z7kCFf

Finally, you may be thinking, “This sounds like a good cause and all, but doesn’t it defeat the purpose to use a lot of oil/gas and drive out there?”  Good question!  We still live in an oil-based economy, and there just aren’t a lot of good options for traveling without using petroleum.  This is in large part due to the subsidies oil companies receive and the huge amounts of money and political power our nation grants them.  If enough of us can stand up and say NO to the Dakota Access Pipeline, then we may be able to have enough people power to imagine and enact new, healthy, sustainable and just ways of being a society.

 

Let my people go

(In honor of Holy Week’s Table Turning MondayI offer this liturgy of (in)justice.  This was originally a sung and spoken-word piece I did for a class presentation on the theology of anthropology.)  

 

When Israel was in Egypt’s land

Let my people go

Oppressed so hard they could not stand

Let my people go

 

Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

to let my people go.

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the riverside

that runs with the blood of the mined-up earth

shining oil and topsoil run-off

dry-throated children crouch on the shores

with plastic pails they gather in life and death

and we, the blood-letters

don’t have to watch

their illness fester on the banks of the river of life

they ask for no parting of the water—

only a clear cup to drink

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the city of tents

where a young girl kicks at a ball of rags

and tries to bury the sound of gunshots

in the swift, strong movement of muscle

sit with her there

and do not try to explain away

the horror she hides in the catch in her smile

give her that cup of cold, clear water

but don’t expect to be rewarded with the return of innocence

stolen by the greed built into our daily commute

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the prison cell

where a tattooed man holds his head in his hands

and weeps

because he was a prisoner long before he got here

and yesterday during visiting hours

he saw his daughter’s face for the very first time

and he was afraid

afraid of the chains he saw growing around her tiny ankles

chains that snake through the houses of my neighborhood

and end at my doorstep

 

Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

to let my people go.

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the path that leads to the tree of life

fall down on your knees in the dust of the earth

where I buried my hands and wondered

how can such fertile ground

shape such barren people?

Tell me, Moses, how I got here

And tell me, please, where all this is going

Tell me plagues have to do with freedom

Tell me the price of the firstborn was worth it

But most of all, Moses, tell me I am going with you

 

Show me a God who stretches out her mighty arm

and scatters our expectations

a God who holds our hearts and softens them

to each other

to Herself

 

Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

to let my people go.

 

Tell me, Moses

what do I do

when I discover that I am not in Egypt

I AM Egypt

 

Let my people go.

This is undoubtedly premature

My conversation about going home when it’s not really home can’t begin yet because I’m not yet home.

Except that I already am.

Eventually, I will be exploring the sojourning nature of the Christian life and how that moves against and with the rooted nature of the Christian life.

I make no promises about post regularity yet.  So in the meantime, check out transcarpathian sojourner, which started it all.