Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.
A day that brings up memories of incense, candles, and quiet, echo-y sanctuaries.
After the celebrations of Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, whichever you celebrate) we move into Lent.
(though let me make a quick plug here for Shrove Tuesday because what the world needs is a day to just eat pancakes, am I right?)
This season in the church is one that we don’t always know what to do with.
It’s filled with reflection and self-examination.
All things that we don’t do very well these days.
See often we think of Lent as this run-up to Easter.
Like a countdown to the good stuff.
Or we think of Lent as this time to show everyone what a good Christian we are by giving something up and then telling everyone about it.
But what if we had gotten it wrong?
What if Lent wasn’t about giving stuff up or trying to be like Jesus in the wilderness for these 40 days?
What if Lent was about getting our focus and energy back on God?
We have strayed.
We have lost our focus.
Lent is time set apart for us to be honest about the things that take us away from God.
We can’t really rise on Easter Sunday unless we understand the things that are killing us.
And then we need to let them die.
Lent is hard.
But man do we need it.
And it all starts with Ash Wednesday.
This day where we go to church and someone looks at us and says:
“You are dust, and to dust you shall return”
It’s not fun.
I know, there are a lot of cool, trendy taglines to try to get you to come to church on this day.
“Get your ash in church.”
I was at a conference not too long ago and someone said that they found the act of receiving ashes to be a comfort, and that it made them feel warm and feel good.
If that’s how you feel about receiving ashes and being told you’re going to be dust, then good on you,
but I find it difficult and uncomfortable and unsettling.
It’s a day I’d rather skip, if I’m being honest.
Who really wants to be reminded of their impending death?
Who wants to be reminded of the fragility of their life?
When I was three years old, my family went to Ash Wednesday mass and as we received the ashes on our foreheads, as that priest leaned forward and told me to remember I was dust and to dust I shall return,
I shouted out (in the middle of the very quiet church):
BUT I DON’T WANNA BE DUST!!!!
Truth, out loud.
That little girl is still in there.
I STILL feel that way. Don’t you?
I don’t like this moment.
It’s so humbling to hear that I am mortal.
I don’t want the reminder of the reality of my own coming death.
But I need it.
WE need it.
It connects us to our humanity.
But it also connects us to our salvation.
It brings our life and death together for one moment – and it is in that moment that we are humiliated and resurrected at the same time.
As Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber preached, “If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and we don’t know the distance between the two, then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and the ends are held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet.”
The cross on my head with the water of my baptism meets the cross with the dirt of my funeral
and for just a second I can truly understand what it is to have these promises of God written on my very person.
I am God’s.
Yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Not even the inevitability of my own death can erase the promise of this God who loves me and has claimed me as his own.
This reminder matters.
Because new life cannot exist without it.
Resurrection follows death.
So even though that little three-year-old Natalia still has her moment of not wanting to be dust,
I will show up,
I will bow my head,
and I will be reminded that I am dust.
Maybe now more than ever.
So find a service.
(it doesn’t have to be mine, but you are always welcome)
Come to church.
Hear the words.
Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
I have a rant that has been building for awhile, and it’s time for it to come out…
There’s a poem written in 1650 by Thomas Fuller and in it he writes: “It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.”
That’s the first record of this proverb that has now been used and said an untold but vast number of times.
A simple Google image search provides thousands of images behind these lines.
Tomorrow is the winter solstice.
In MN, this is when it is the darkest for the longest.
And so in honor of the longest darkest night, I’m making a plea to stop telling people that it’s always darkest before the dawn.
Now I get it, this phrase is used with good intentions.
Often to give people hope when they are in their “darkest times.”
But you guys, it’s crap.
Total and utter crap.
Do you know when the darkest part of night is?
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAMN NIGHT THAT’S WHEN.
And it’s not my opinion, it’s science.
The moment right before dawn is actually pretty light.
Have you ever watched the sun rise?
It isn’t dark dark dark BOOM light.
No, it’s a slow and gradual lightening of the sky until it’s day.
It’s not the darkest but actually the lightest part of night that is before the dawn.
So when someone is in the literal middle of the darkest dark in their lives,
when the shit has hit the fan and they cannot find any light –
telling them it’s darkest before it’s light feels like the lie it is.
Have you ever been in this kind of darkness?
It’s really dark. I mean really.
It’s scary, and isolating, and so hard.
And when you’re in it,
without a doubt,
that dawn is NOT, in fact, around the corner.
So what do we say?
We have to say something right?
When a friend is in the dark? We can’t just be quiet.
Yes you can.
You don’t have to say the right thing or send them the perfect quote on the perfect background you found on pinterest…
You know what you can do?
You can bring a candle and sit in the dark with them.
I KNOW – we don’t like the dark at all.
In fact, we often would rather sort of toss a flashlight in the general direction of someone who is in the dark, and hope they know how to use it.
We say things like “let me know if I can do anything”
or “I’m here if you need me”
I say “we” because I am absolutely guilty of this as well.
I’m a fixer. I want people to be happy and healthy and shiny.
But that’s not real life.
So tomorrow, on the shortest day, on the darkest longest night,
go be the light.
Because if you know someone in the dark,
in the darkest dark,
in the middle of the darkest night,
know that it’s probably not almost dawn,
it’s not likely to be light for a little while yet,
and they might need some company,
and someone to bring the light for them for awhile.
Lastly – if you are in the dark, if this is you… know that while it might still be dark for a little while,
the light DOES and will come.
Maybe not quickly, but it will come,
a tiny bit lighter, day by day, little by little.
Gradually, and then it’ll be light again.
Phew you guys.
Today feels like the culmination of a year (or more) of anger and divisive rhetoric all boiled into one 12 hour period.
The energy of this day is palpable.
And I’ve got to be honest, not all the energy feels positive.
If nothing else, this election cycle has ramped up the idea that differences between each other are somehow bad, and the only people we can talk to or show kindness to are the ones who believe the same things we do.
I’m as guilty of this as the next person.
As I stood in line to vote this morning and watched people exit the polling room, I had a moment where I looked at each one and wondered if they had voted against me or not.
Yeah. That’s really what went through my mind.
I’m not proud of it. But it’s the truth.
It took a few minutes, but I got myself out of that place.
It wasn’t easy.
And I knew, KNEW, at that moment I had a choice.
I could put myself on one side of a line and some on the other.
I could be angry and bitter and frustrated and spiteful and hateful.
I could be an Uplifter.
See folks, this is where the rubber meets the road.
Because being uplifters is especially hard when the world around us is asking us to sink to the lowest common denominator.
Asking us to call each other criminals or bigots.
Asking us to choose sides and hunker down.
Well guess what?
We don’t have to do what the world tells us to do.
We are uplifters.
And we get to choose something different.
We get to choose hope.
We get to choose kindness.
We get to choose understanding.
We get to choose.
This morning, as I stood there silently judging those walking past me,
I made a choice.
A conscious choice.
In fact, it was an intentional and not easy choice to look around at people who were likely not all voting the same way I was and think of them as brothers and sisters.
As people exercising their right to vote same as me.
As people who were making a choice for something they believe in, same as me.
As people worthy of love and kindness, same as me – and more importantly, even if they don’t return the sentiment.
So today is our choice fellow Uplifters.
We get to choose to be different.
We get to choose to be a part of #teamuplift
And even though there aren’t thousands or millions of us, there are hundreds.
And we, though small, can make a difference.
We can flood the interwebs with positivity instead of negativity.
We can listen to those who disagree instead of shouting over what they believe.
I promise, we can do it.
We can Be Uplifters and be countercultural today.
Join the movement.
Be an Uplifter.
Did you know if you make “Be an Uplifter” into a hashtag it looks like this: #BeanUplifter
Bean Uplifter? What is that?
Yeah. Found that one out the hard way.
#teamuplift for the win!
I was listening to a podcast last weekend, featuring on of my favorites, Sarah Bessey, and in it, she asked the question, “what are you for?”
I think she figured out something huge and true and powerful.
We are constantly in the world, seeing what is around us and deciding and declaring what we are NOT.
And I actually think that’s important.
Because knowing what we aren’t helps us figure out what we are.
But we’ve stopped at the first part.
We just keep naming all the things we’re against.
We say we’re “anti” this and “non” that.
We have somehow decided that making sure we aren’t lumped in with the “wrong people” is priority number one.
Knowing what we’re against has become more important than knowing what we are for.
It’s killing us.
I woke up this morning and read the news and saw more unjustified killing of unarmed black men and riots and protesters and police both hurt and my heart just breaks.
Because I know that when I go onto twitter or facebook my feed is going to be full of anti-this and against-that.
And I can’t do it anymore.
I just can’t.
But I can start to ask a different question.
What am I for?
Many years ago, in my first go-around through seminary, I took what might be the best course I’ve ever taken. It was an ethics course, on Martin Luther King Jr.
So I know, I KNOW, that it bothers some people when a white middle class girl from Minnesota quotes MLKJr, but I don’t do it because I searched pinterest inspiring quotes but because I studied his life and words and sermons and know that very few people had the courage to say the things he did, the way he did, when everyone else was advocating a different kind of response.
In 1968, MLKJr preached a sermon called “The Drum Major Instinct.”
It’s my favorite thing he’s ever said or written.
(If you want to listen and read it, go here)
He talked about our need to lead, to be in front, and said it’s not wrong, this instinct, but we’ve misused it.
But instead of fighting the instinct we all have, we need to ask what KIND of drum major do you want to be?
What are you for?
When you lead – what kind of leader are you going to be?
When you fight – what are you going to fight for?
When you speak – what are your words going to convey?
When you act – what will your actions say about your heart?
What kind of drum major will YOU be?
What are you for?
Every darn day in this contentious election cycle.
Every time a black or brown life is unjustly and needlessly cut short.
Every time another life is reduced to a candy metaphor.
Every time your heart breaks at a news story.
Ask yourself – what are you for?
We can do this.
now I talk a lot about yoga on this blog.
There are two reasons for this –
1. Yoga is awesome
2. Yoga continues to teach me new things all the time.
I’ve been thinking about the ending of yoga, especially in a public class, where we bow to each other and say “Namaste”
This word is actually pretty well known these days, as yoga isn’t such a hooey thing that only hippies and treehuggers participate in.
But as much as people know the word, they don’t always know what it means.
Here’s the definition:
That’s what it means.
One word, encompasses all of that.
You can simplify it a bit by saying that the divine in me recognizes the divine in you, but this complete definition is a lot more powerful.
Look at it again –
My soul honors your soul.
I honor the light, love, truth, beauty and peace within you – because those things are also in me – and like sees like.
When we see those things in each other, we are one.
We see our sameness – our shared humanity.
Right now, in this country, we aren’t seeing a lot of sameness.
We’re focused all on difference.
And some of those differences are important.
When it comes to justice and privilege, then yes, recognizing and acknowledging difference is SO important to be able to make changes and fight for justice and equality.
But when we only see difference – when we look at someone and make a judgement based on their candidate of choice or who they love or the color of their skin then we have the kind of world that is breaking out today.
One that demonizes difference and leave no room for nuance and individuals.
It’s time for a little more namaste, people.
It’s time to look at the people who are in direct opposition to me and see them for the light, love, truth, beauty and peace within them.
It’s time to recognize the good in people.
And call it out in each other.
Get to know people for who they really are, inside.
Get to know the light, love, truth, beauty and peace of each person in your life – especially those who aren’t the same as you.
At the end of each yoga class, after we’ve struggled and breathed and laughed together – we say namaste in unison, recognizing how we each have things that we bring to the class, to each other, and to the world. We see the light in each other and we lift it up. We offer at the end a deep reverence for the other.
Say it with me: namaste.
Today I need to use this blog to work through some stuff.
Is that ok?
That little baby podcast was posted on March 18th.
So basically it’s been almost a month of me thinking and thinking and thinking about what she said.
It’s worth you all checking it out – so please, click the link and go listen, but bottom line – she said that we so often think about what makes us happy. Then we try to do those things and be informed by those things. Logical right?
But here’s the kicker – she said that we often ignore or hide or even run away from the emotions that make us uncomfortable, but it is THOSE emotions which can be the most instructive.
“What if we treated these negative emotions like traveling professors?”
Here’s why this is changing my life.
Instead of being afraid of these negative emotions like envy or anger or competitiveness, G challenges us to see them as teachers, as helpful, and – most importantly – temporary.
Did you notice how she called them traveling professors?
Because they come in for a bit, you learn from them, and then they go on their way.
I’ve maybe mentioned once or twice that I struggle with perfectionism and performance… you know, my drugs of choice. For some it’s alcohol, for me, it’s doing things right and being good. So when I have an emotion that doesn’t fit into those categories, if I find myself being judgy or envious, I tend to see them as failures. I must be doing something wrong if I feel them.
But what if, like Glennon says, I see them as helpful instead of hurtful?
What if I didn’t see them as bad, but as part of the process to help me be more who I am created to be?
(that was my head exploding)
So when I find myself going to that place, where I am beating myself up for something I’m feeling, I can pause, and ask myself why am I feeling this way?
What is happening?
What’s at the root of this?
And what does it have to teach me?
See how this changes everything?
So friends – what’s your negative emotion you’ve been hiding from?
How can you see it differently, and what might it have to teach you?
I’d love to hear all about it.
So if you follow my blog, you know I like yoga. Kind of a lot.
There are a LOT of reasons, which I am happy to tell you about if you ask, but I’ve been thinking about one reason in particular.
I’m a perfectionist.
It’s not a good thing for me.
I’ve struggled with my performance mentality for a long time, and as an adult I’ve had to teach myself how to break the habit of beating myself up when I don’t do it “right” or “perfectly.”
(Incidentally, this was really driven home by my read and study of Brene Brown’s book: The Gifts of Imperfection” which I highly recommend if you find yourself relating to this post at all.)
Yoga, at it’s core, is a practice.
It’s never done. You never get it “right” or “perfect.”
And there might be a day you do a pose really well, and then literally the next day you can’t do it if your life depended on it.
And that’s all ok.
It’s all a part of the practice of yoga.
While I do daily yoga, I only go to a public class once a week.
Though she says it a lot, yesterday my instructor reminded me that the only way our bodies learn is by falling.
There’s a pose – Warrior 3 – where you balance on one leg and make yourself into a T shape.
Here’s the thing – your hips have to be level. Like balance a cup of water on your low back level. When you start the posture, your non-standing-leg hip wants to go up just a little. And so the practice in this pose is to get those hips on the same plane. So you adjust, and adjust and adjust, and usually, you adjust a bit too much and fall out of it.
But that’s where the magic happens. That little space between falling and balancing is the sweet spot, but you never get there without going past it first.
And if you’re anything like me, wanting perfection… that should blow your mind.
Because I think we’re so afraid to fall, so afraid of not doing things “right” that we don’t ever take the risk, and then we never learn anything new.
The only way we learn is to fall.
The only way we learn is to fall.
This fear of failure that we’ve built into the culture is bad for us.
It’s bad for creativity.
It’s bad for health.
It’s bad for us period.
This is why I love yoga.
Yoga is where I learn stuff like this and then take if off the mat and into the world.
Perfection isn’t the goal.
The practice is the goal.
Learning is the goal.
So I try stuff. I imagine, I dream big.
Sometimes I fall.
A lot of times I fall actually.
But I can’t be afraid of it.
And I know that falling is how I learn.
So I get up, try again, try something new and – sometimes, sometimes I get it just right.
I balance on the edge of safety and falling… and it’s beautiful.
I mean really, really beautiful.
There are things happening in my life right now that feel like big impossible dreams.
And I’m finding myself on the edge.
The easy thing would be to back up.
To move back into a safe place where balance is easier and things are not so scary.
But I know that growth doesn’t happen back there.
It happens here, balancing on the edge.
Trusting in the practice.
If I fall, well, that’s just a part of learning and growing.
Fear has no place in my yoga practice.
And it has no place in my life either.
In the hustle and bustle of our daily life – how often are you in silence?
No, sleeping doesn’t count.
(And really, some of you don’t sleep in silence either)
Really though. How often are you silent?
Once a day?
Twice a day?
One minute but it was by mistake because your phone was in the other room?
We have lost the ability to be alone with our thoughts.
To be silent.
I love my phone as much, maybe even more, as the next person, but not being able to be silent is a big deal.
We need silence.
And even more importantly, God needs silence.
In the Book of Kings, we are reminded that God doesn’t speak in the earthquake, or in the fire, but instead we hear God’s voice in THE SILENCE.
(1 Kings 19:12)
In the silence.
So one might interpret this text today to say that God’s voice isn’t heard on social media or in loud music, but in the silence.
Silence is important, it’s life giving, and it connects us to God.
Mother Theresa even said that through silence God speaks. “If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.”
So what does this have to do with Lent you ask?
Lent is the church season of silence.
Advent is joyful, sparkly, giddy anticipation.
Pentecost is loud, chaotic, fiery enthusiasm.
Lent is quiet, calm reflection.
Lent is tailor-made for silence.
And we need it.
We need to take these 40 days and remove some of the noise from our world.
We need to take these 40 days and fast from the things that hold us back from hearing God’s voice.
What is that for you?
Is it social media? Maybe.
Is it anger, or bitterness or pride? Maybe.
Whatever it is for you, consider how you might remove it and leave that space empty.
God will speak in the silence.
We only need to leave a little space.
What am I doing for Lent you might wonder? (or not wonder, that’s cool too)
I’m giving myself social media time limits.
I really notice that it is in silence when I am most likely to pick up my phone.
So I’m using an app that puts time limits on my social media and I’m going to see what happens. I’m going to try to make silence something I value, instead of something that makes me uncomfortable.
This Lent – I’m making space.
I have been sitting on this letter to you for a little while now, because I was hoping the answers would magically appear in my brain, but that’s definitely not happening so I thought if maybe I combined your brain with my brain we could come up with something wonderful.
I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m Natalia. I met you in MN, (along with about 500 other ladies, about three years ago, so I don’t expect you to remember me). I’m a pastor, wife, mother and my whole family and congregation know of you because I pretty regularly use your words in my preaching. (thanks for that by the way – you make me look goooooooood on a regular basis)
My little is 5. She is creative and wonderful and quirky and hilarious.
She wants to write.
She has started a book club for little girls.
I love her and her heart.
Each day when I get her onto the bus, I tell her to be brave and kind, but “especially kind”, and she looks at me, kisses my nose, and says “you too mama” And off she goes.
She goes off to kindergarten, with great teachers in a great school, and not everyone is kind TO her.
And man. How hard is it to be kind when someone else isn’t kind to you? It’s a thing most ADULTS don’t know how to do and here I’m asking my little love to do it.
So here’s the thing I need help with.
Because what she is learning, with great difficulty, is that being kind means being hurt. And as a mama, I love that she’s kind and I HATE that she gets hurt doing it.
So here I am. Hoping your littles (being a little less little than mine) have already come into this issue and you can share your experience with me. Because I truly, truly believe that love wins. That kindness will win the war even when it doesn’t win the battle.
But the lost battles suck.
Anyway – that’s what I’ve got.
Thanks for being you, for sharing your heart and your honesty with me.
I am truly better at being me because you are you.
Praying for you – Natalia