Floodplains and Dis-ease

Sara Groves is a Christian songwriter who I can get behind. I often find her lyrics to be incredibly vulnerable (and creative), which allows an easy connection for me to be able to say, “woah, me too.”

Her most recent album is entitled “Floodplain” and the song, “Floodplain” is one of those tunes that I have come to over and over to learn, to identify with, to be changed.

She sings that “Some hearts are built on a floodplain. Keeping one eye on the sky for rain. You work for the ground that gets washed away when you live closer. Closer to the life in the ebb and flow, closer to the edge of ‘I don’t know,’ closer to ‘that’s the way it goes.’ Some hearts are built on a floodplain.”

Now I know I’m writing this in the wake of many friends who are suffering from flooding in Louisiana and many who are currently, as I write, buckled down for the storm approaching the eastern coast of the states. And I hold you all closely now. My writing of floods here is metaphorical, though I myself have lived through 1000 year flooding in Nashville, and I recall its devastation as I remember canoeing through my former high-school and cleaning mold for months.

The older I get, the more I realize that so many of us do not live on high ground, but on floodplains.  None of us have all of this together, none of us have life figured out; sometimes, we are way closer to “what brings us to our knees” than not, and way closer to “Lord, please send a boat” than not. (Sara Groves, “Floodplain”)

And I’ve realized that life happens on that floodplain. Life happens in the uncertainty, in the anxiety, in the doubt. Our best selves often flow forth from the floodplain because we do not have the ease of high ground to remain safe upon. Life on the floodplain requires a rawness and reflection that cannot happen the same way when there is no struggle.

Some folks are steadier than others, but whether you’re steady or not does not change the geography upon which you stand. You can be steady on a floodplain. You can show up and be fully present on a floodplain. You can be so alive, so raw, so vulnerable, so able to be changed on a floodplain.

And life changes…it does not remain certain; it is ever-evolving. Why else do we live in seasons? They are reminders that life is always change.

Dis-ease, unease– it is not always an enemy. Sometimes it can be a friend. Sometimes it is much more a friend than certainty. Sometimes it can open us up to new life, new possibilities, new mystery.

My Quarrel with Writing

The hesitancy of sitting down to write is one which wins most often between the choice of the busying of my hands with other more-pressing, more-important, more-satiating tasks, and writing. Writing is always time-consuming and sometimes energy-draining; it is a creation and thus, leaves the creator vulnerable to critique if it is shared with others.

If it is forced, writer and reader see through it immediately. If it is organic, it speaks for itself.

While I used to write somewhat prolifically, I now am much more accustomed to distracting myself with other tasks. Surviving life and trying to find an authentic, faithful, accountable way of maneuvering my whole self in the world takes a great deal of my energy. Couple that with my care-taking posture and I sometimes have little self to create.

Further, there are so many manifestations of unjust systems that are built to intentionally keep folks (both human and nonhuman) at the bottom; these manifestations spring up every day and become accessible to us via social media platforms if they do not happen to be local. There is always something to write about, or to let that space of creation be devoted to listening.

There will always be a truth and untruth in the creation that writing brings (teachings from the principles of nonviolence). If I cannot hold both of those realities, then I cannot give my whole self to anything, but especially the creation that writing produces.

In light of these elucidations of why I frequently claim writers block as a malicious disease with which I have been plagued, the irony remains that I am actually writing this piece and that my agency remains to take up the pen. Because it is in the writing, the creation rather than consumption, that I re-acquaint myself with the discipline of being faithful to who I am. I am a writer who, at her very core, believes that consumption, as a way of being, is the very worst posture one can take through life. A writer who will live alive and die believing love is the only way to be fully alive.

I will never apologize for loving. I will never apologize for being me.

That’s why I write today.

 

Blue Hill Prayer

Here in the blue hills of Asheville,

I was anointed this morning by the needles of the White Pine,

falling upon the crest of my head.

The smell of Rosemary Geranium filled me.

The wind flowing through the trees, kissing them,

created a symphony of sound,

drawing me into its mountainous song.

My heart swelled with love for these connections with creation.

They are family to me.

Thanks be to You, God, the Creator of all.

 

Around the bonfire…

 

Around the bonfire, I find a circle that does not end,

a space where stories are told, but not claimed,

plenty of darkness to hide the pain that lingers,

a centerpiece of fire which cannot be controlled.

 

Around the bonfire, there is plenty of love,

and the laughter mingles with the fire’s crackles,

as the moon emerges shyly from its slumber,

everybody is dancing in the moonlight.

 

Around the bonfire, life slows down,

to a pace that allows some perspective,

the smell of fire saturates the busyness,

and cuts into the forgetfulness of abundant life.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Learnings of Lent [so far]

1. Lent is a time of learned relentlessness and persistence, also known in the theological world as faithfulness. Faith and following Christ should not be easy.

2. “The Gospel is always an invitation: come and follow me.” –Douglas Meeks and yet, “Do not be afraid to put the Bible into its [Ancient Near Eastern] context.” –Annalisa Azzoni

3. If love is easy, it’s not that kind of deep and abiding love that I am looking to engage in.

4. Retraining one’s body with discipline and care is liberating.

5. I still don’t know how to fix a toaster.

6. Courage without vulnerability isn’t actually courage at all.

7. If you have never had to fight for who you are, I’m not really interested in your opinion or critique.

8. Job searching and vocation naming is hard, yet Holy Work.

9. Lean into the good things which are all around you because they are indeed, all around you.

10. It seems like all is dead in winter, but it’s actually just a time of sabbatical for much of creation. Don’t be fooled into thinking Death has won.

Not unto the Critics…

Holiday break affords much needed introvert reflection time for me and as I dive into my thoughts/ feelings/ dreams, my gratitude increases by exponential leaps and bounds. I recall who I am at my most basic, yet ironically complex, self. The layers of deadlines and to-do lists make cloudy the image that I have of who I am. Then technological gadgets make it so that I can go throughout the day with literally not a second of alone time.

So space to come back to myself is needed like the sun is needed after weeks of clouds.

The space that this 2015 holiday has provided has been both difficult and productive. It’s necessary space, but it often requires one to pick up those things that one has pushed aside in one’s spirit because of how hard they might be to think and talk about.

It’s a kind of “re-collection space.” Space to recollect that which I know is true about myself and to center my mind, body, and spirit around that, as well as a time to re-collect my priorities, my work, relationships that I have neglected, etc.

One guide whose work I trust to accompany me through this recollection space is someone who is not new to the blog, but whom I’ve written about before, here and here. During this break, I have been reacquainted with Dr. Brené Brown’s sociological work on shame and vulnerability. She has centered her most recent work on a quote which she came across years ago by Theodore Roosevelt. Before sharing the quote and elucidating my thoughts on it, I want to first say that while I believe this quote to be extraordinarily significant to the truth of her work, I have major issues of much of what Teddy did as President and do not support his actions by posting this quote.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

This quote has been poignant to me in my reflection on what is to come in 2016 and the manner by which I plan to carry myself. The main point of this quote and of my writing today is the vulnerability that it takes to be in the arena: to put yourself “out there” and expose yourself to the weathered elements of criticism. Being vulnerable almost always involves creating something, be it poetry, a blog or book, or beginning a program of study, getting out of an unhealthy relationship or getting into a new one, using your privilege creatively to dis-mantle unjust systems, allying with folks who are doing the work from their communities, doing the work from your community, forming new skill sets, pushing your body into something healthier, and so many more ways of creating vulnerably.

Though this list of activities varies widely in scope, two common themes unite it: creating and vulnerability. Creating means bringing something new into the world instead of solely consuming. You know, like consuming social media, TV, Netflix, magazines, people, sports games, and the list goes on. Rather than consuming practices, these activities of creation require one to stand in the arena surrounded by many critics who are quite comfortable sitting on their butts critiquing you. And it can hurt incredibly because you are so exposed. This is where Brené’s work comes in (see video below) because it is at this point of vulnerability that she suggests acknowledging the critics (both human and your own self doubt) and even reserving their seats, and then she suggests: “Tell them, I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.”

Some critics are trolls whose sole purpose is to inflict doubt and criticism because of their own lack, but some are family and friends who, for whatever reason, cannot get on board with this growth, change, and creativity in your life.

“Tell them, I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.”

Because it doesn’t really matter who you are, if you aren’t also in the arena getting your butt kicked as hard as I am, and creating something in this world instead of consuming all the things, then while I respect your opinion, it is irrelevant to me.

I’m going to do this anyway.

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You can see the full video of Brené Brown’s: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count, here. I highly recommend it!

Our Longings of Advent: Part 4, Contemplation with Community

Continued blessings during this Advent! My prayer is that it has been a rich and meaningful time thus far. We’ll have one more post later this week as we near Christmas-tide!

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In this last week of Advent, we include in our focus of contemplation of self and land, the contemplation of community. We know that we cannot do life alone. Many of us are beginning new seasons of life with school, career, and family and it is temping to try to do this alone, but it is unwise; we draw strength and exhortation from the resonance of a community. Our faith grows as we wait for the Lord together; we know the Lord’s love better because we know the love of each other.

This week, let us focus on each other’s stories. If you are able, create space for time with a friend, making a point to hear his/her/their story and share yours in return. Stories from this year or from years past. These stories need not necessarily all be positive or negative, but it should be your story to share.

Dori Grinenko Baker writes, “theological reflection happens when we look for the place where our stories meet up with God’s story.1” Theology is done everyday, especially in community. In Mighty Stories and Dangerous Rituals, Anderson and Foley write, “Stories are privileged and imaginative acts of self-interpretation. We tell stories of a life in order to establish meaning and to integrate our remembered past with what we perceive to be happening in the present and what we anticipate in the future.”2 As we spend time in reflection of Advent, we would be remiss if we did not focus on stories because they make meaning out of life and help us remember who we are, where we have been, how we have been hurt, or perhaps what/who we are waiting on.

Sometimes stories own us. But I’ll digress as this is a whole other blog post to explore.

May your journey during this sacred time of Advent be rich this week as you do it alongside community.

**Scriptural contemplation for the week: Philippians 4:4-7

1 Dori G. Baker, The Barefoot Way: A Faith Guide for Youth, Young Adults, and the People Who Walk With Them (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 11.

2 Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals (San Francisco, CA: Josey Bass Imprinting, 1998), 5.