Shalom is together

A few weeks ago our friend Mariya talked about the concept of Shalom in talkback. Rand had just given a great sermon on Jesus’s blessed are the peacemakers, and Mariya reflected that peace isn’t just the absence of conflict, it’s about wholeness, completeness and harmony, everything working together. It’s about the way things are supposed to be. In scripture, that is the concept of shalom.

We can’t experience wholeness on our own. Bell hooks said it well: “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” And that’s the main point of our message today. Shalom happens together, with others. We can’t get to this much longed-for completeness in ourselves, no matter how self-actualized we become. But every American is taught to try, since we are raised on the religion of individualism! Unfortunately it’s an empty religion, since God is shalom and designed us in connection with the earth and each other. Trying to separate ourselves out is damaging and futile; that’s why we’re making this mural together, to visualize the connection in all of creation! Seeds can’t open without this mycelium network. We literally can’t become complete on our own; we can’t realize the fullness of God’s plan as individuals or even within our nuclear family. We need others, especially the community of faith. And that’s hard, because we have differences from each other!

Paul wrote to the Ephesian church about it:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Ephesians 2:13-18

The groups that Paul is talking about are the Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were a small group of people through which the story of God relating to humanity had come, and the Gentiles were everybody else. Jesus was a Jew, and after centuries of rich tradition, the Jews in the early church felt like they had a lot of spiritual privilege. They were special; God had looked out for them in spite of their frequent disobedience. But this was more about the nature of God than it was about the particularities of any group of people! God was expanding the blessing and promise to all people through Christ. 

But the Jewish Christians were just discovering this after Jesus’s resurrection; it was all new and messy in community. These believers had grown up with a literal stone wall in their temple in Jerusalem that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the temple proper. There was a sign on the wall that read that it could only be breached by pain of death. Gentiles were not allowed to worship with Jews! In fact, Paul was eventually arrested and condemned by the Jewish religious leaders by accusation of taking a Gentile Ephesian across this barrier. This wasn’t just a wall of hostility, it was the law. Similar to how the lie of white supremacy was literally written into the laws in the United States!

What Jesus is doing through his death on the cross was fulfilling the law that said that Jews and Gentiles had to be kept apart. He was bringing them together in his body. See these lines that go in different directions? (on the cross.) They come together in the center. He is becoming the new meeting place, the way of fellowship in himself. Paul wrote to the Colossian church: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. He is our peace, Yawheh Shalom, the one who brings people together through seemingly impossible history and barriers.

Paul knows what a huge deal this is, for Jews to give up their legacied centuries of spiritual privilege. Remember Paul had been so bought in to the concept of his own spiritual privilege as a Jewish leader that he’d been murdering people who threatened it Jewish privilege with this wild new gospel! Paul also had some sense of how impossible it would be for Gentiles to see themself as full partners in this new gospel, Jesus being a Jew and all, and to actually feel included enough to make something new together! Steeped in our own culture, it’s hard for us to imagine the difficulty of this cultural divide in the early church and what a miracle of transformation it was in its coming together.

The word that Paul uses for new here in new humanity is “kainos”, and it implies something that literally has not existed before in the world. This is not just people putting up with each other and minimizing differences. This is beyond our concepts of “unity” and “reconciliation” that have too often been the dominant culture forcing everyone to fit into their mold, like the racist assimilation process in the United States. This is God creating something brand new with God’s own self, an opportunity for fellowship in which everyone has equal access through faith. This had never been done before.

The Jews had to repent of their spiritual privilege to get into this newness, because the only way to come to Jesus is through grace; nobody is entitled to Him by any human privilege or capacity. They will have to participate in destroying the enmity, the wall of hostility that has been upheld by their laws and regulations. They will have to set their laws aside, as Paul says.

The Gentiles will have to be brought near by a new invitation that acknowledges how they’ve been excluded in the past and what new thing God is making now through Christ. Paul does that in this chapter of Ephesians around our passage today. He recognizes and articulates how the Gentile believers had been separated and excluded from the covenant of promise that God made with the Jews, but now, through Christ, God is making us all a dwelling place of his Spirit together! You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people, he says. And “God’s people” is now a brand new thing that has never existed before. We’re all called to get beyond your entitlements, because all of us were once addicted to the cycle of just trying to please ourselves, he says in the beginning of the chapter. We were all dead in our sins by being self-absorbed, but how Jesus has made us alive by his grace. What God is doing in us is beyond the sin and injustice that has kept us apart. Praise him! He is transforming us.

There’s a guy in the Old Testament that God keeps putting on my radar this week, even though I didn’t plan to talk about him. He was also transformed by Yahweh Shalom, Jesus our peace. He was a scared, needy guy in a real bad situation, and his story shows how Jesus our peace comes to do the impossible. The amazing irony of how the peace of God shows up through our weakness and vulnerability and simple availability to the Spirit, NOT through our great capacity to be reconcilers, but through our great surrender to Jesus. I need to keep talking about it because we’re still tempted to believe that this gospel is about our goodness or specialness, and it’s not.

Gideon was the youngest in his family, and his family was a mess, and his people were being wrecked by more powerful neighbors. In fact his people were living in hideouts in the mountains because their crops and livestock kept getting plundered by their enemies. They were so completely getting wiped out that when we meet Gideon he is grinding wheat in a wine press, which shows how little food they had. 

An angel of the Lord comes to him and says, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior, and he literally says “pardon me” to the angel. LOL. He asks HOW is God with us if all this terrible stuff has happened to us? And the angel doesn’t answer that question, but tells him to go in the strength he has to save his people. And Gideon says “pardon me?” to the angel again! It seems to me like one of the most realistic dialogues in the Bible. This word from God is way beyond Gideon’s capacity. But the angel promises that God will be with him and he is not going to die. 

And so Gideon builds an altar to remember this Word from Yahweh Shalom, the Lord is peace. He gets instructions about how to move forward, and he argues sometimes, but he generally obeys. And what God asks him to do gets harder and weirder. Gideon gathers thousands of warriors, but God thins out the army so that the Hebrew people won’t think they won the battle in their own strength. Gideon ends up saving his people with just 300 partners. And everyone, even the enemies, knew this was about the power of God.

I think God knew I needed to remember that story this week. Because we too have lost so much in the pandemic. But God is looking out for us, and doing something new in us, asking us to go in the strength we have. It’s not about our exceptionalism or great capacity; it’s about our willingness to follow Yahweh Shalom, Jesus our peace.

He brings it all together on the cross, vulnerably offering his whole self. I need to plan for our sunrise service on Easter Sunday and I keep waking up with the hymn Crown Him with Many Crowns on my heart. Do you know that one? It’s so beautiful, and as I imagine the crown of thorns jammed into his head to mock him and make him suffer, I see it replaced with a tender crown of flowers now. We should put a crown of flowers on this cross on Easter, to show the beauty he has made through his sacrificial love. 

And then I remembered that Ukrainian people have a tradition of making and wearing beautiful crowns of flowers, called vinoks. It’s heartbreaking to think about what they are going through now, no doubt not wearing vinoks. They are traditionally used in times of celebration, like in wedding ceremonies and they’re also a symbol for peace. I was reading an article where a model who wore one at her wedding said,  “Peace may indeed be the most prevalent reason for wearing the flower crown in today’s world. I think we are coming back to floral themes because fashion is starting to react to wars that we are having around the globe. We need some tenderness.” And that was before the war her people are experiencing now.

Let us practice this tenderness with each other. We honor Jesus’s sacrifice as we open ourselves to the possibility coming together this season in new ways. The center of the cross is a new place of fellowship in him. We should hang a vinok there on Easter. But in the meantime, let yourself be brought near by the love of God for you. You don’t have to do all the work of making the impossible happen, God trying to bring us closer to the miracle that God is doing by the work of Her Spirit. Maybe you have to put aside some laws and regulations you’ve been taught that keep you from being vulnerable. Maybe you have to put away some entitlements or privilege, or expectation that you should be exceptional and already have figured things out. Maybe you have to put aside some hostility toward yourself. Maybe you have to hear that you are no longer a foreigner or a stranger to Jesus, but that you are fully seen and included, even if you were excluded before. Wherever you are, Jesus our peace is here. 

Security and promise: the gifts of waiting for the fullness of our transformation

We are thinking of ourselves like seeds this Lent, like Jesus said about his own self, that he was a seed that had to die and be buried in the ground, and rise back to life to produce many seeds. We’re in an organic process too! The spiritual life is an organic, embodied one, one that offers hope that life goes on and on eternally because of Christ’s resurrection. 

Being seeds invites us to be planted in the soil of community, the community of faith – where the Spirit can soften and open us. We need each other. That’s why we’re painting this underground fungal network around the cross – this is the “magic” stuff that is in the soil, like the Spirit’s work in community to encourage us to undergo the process of transformation and change in our lives. The call to love each other helps strip away our old selves, our defenses, our habits and patterns that hold us down and keep us locked inside. This powerful, often invisible network nurtures and empowers us to become our new selves in Christ, our best selves that are already planted in us, like a seed! We are trying to stay in the soil this Lent and trust this process of God’s love working on us and through us together.

I want to focus on the waiting in the process today, and offer two gifts of being buried in the ground until new life happens: security and promise. 

After seeds are planted, they often hang out in the dark earth, buried for a long time until anything happens. We’re right here in the middle of Lent, and if you’re observing the season in a meaningful way it usually feels like it takes a LONG time to get to Easter in the middle of these 40 days. It also takes a long time for the mycelium network in the earth to gently open seeds before the radical, that brave first shoot of new life, can pop out and take root. Some seeds have to be buried for multiple seasons before anything happens; for example, the bamboo seed is buried for 5 years before it germinates!  And the fullness of our transformation takes a long time too. So I hope this post encourages you to be patient with yourself and others. We’re all seeds that need to soak in the environment of God’s love for a lifetime, in order to see what we will be.

The good news is that there is security and belonging in the waiting. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian church that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Our place with Christ, IN Christ, provides a place of safety to learn and grow, no matter how long it takes. This is a place of grace, a truly safe place to be held and nurtured in a dangerous and threatening world. “Safety” is such a wanted and elusive concept these days, but Jesus offers it to each of us personally in a way that nothing can change. No fault of our own can take it away; no terrible circumstance in the world can destroy it. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We are protected, spiritually speaking, from the punishment of sin and death. We are held in the mystery of the dark earth, even in the wildness of community, where the Spirit can bring us into fullness. I must admit, it’s an uncomfortable process, much of the time! But nothing can take us out of God’s love. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:35-39) We are literally planted in the soil of it. In all the suffering and changing of community, God’s love is the main ingredient in this soil. 

There are times in this soil of the community of faith, even with God’s love, that feel like death. We are dying as we surrender to the process of our transformation here. The dying is what it takes to love each other. The dying is what it takes to be so changed by God’s love that we can see each other with spiritual eyes in this soil. And in this dying process, when it feels like everything is doomed and we are hopelessly losing ourselves and everything we hold dear – that is when we must remember Jesus’s rising. He didn’t just suffer and die. He rose to new life, eternal life, and we will too. He said he was the first to rise and all who come after him will also live forever. 

This is the promise of our transformation. That life will not end in death. Life will not end in this painful process of transformation, no matter how much we have to give up for it. When we feel like failures, or other people hurt us, or when we feel lost or uncertain, when we can’t see the road in front of us, that’s the moment to remember that we are seeds, buried with Christ, and we will rise, even though it takes a long time. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. 

I used to do some serious underground caving. There were moments when head lamps would burn out, and in those moments, you cannot imagine the darkness sixty feet underground where no light gets in. Being a seed sounds romantic until you are waiting there for rescue in the impenetrable darkness and stillness, unable to see even an inch from your face.

These are the moments to remember the promise of change that comes from being one of Jesus’s seeds. This change happens not just in the life to come, but in this one too! Check out the passage in Colossians to see the change we are called to now, even as we wait for the fullness of our transformation:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3)

So having our lives hidden with Christ in God (which happens simply by having some shred of faith in Jesus) puts us in this process of transformation where we outgrow what we don’t need: lust, greed, idolatry, rage, malice, slander, lying. It might take awhile and a lot of therapy LOL; I got too angry at my kids just last weekend. But the promise is that this soil of God’s love will change us. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and gratitude will ultimately win out in us if we can stay in the soil.

Let the soil of God’s love in community work on you this season, even if it feels like dying or you think that nothing good is happening. You are safe in Christ. Nothing can take you out of his love; you are safe to learn and grow and change. But when the change is imperceptible, remember that you’re a seed. This transformation takes time. The promise of rising into your fullness has already been written; by God’s grace it WILL happen, and it’s already happening in ways we can’t see from inside the soil.

They didn’t know we were seeds

The season of Lent invites us to identify with Jesus on his journey to the cross. Ironically, as we look at him there, in scripture and in community, we find him identifying with us and leading us to hope of new life.

The context of his death is so much like ours: world powers competing in dangerous ways, the questioning of religious tradition, the oppression and marginalization of the poor and others, confusion around who God is and what God is doing. It is in this context that God meets people and demonstrates sacrificial love.  

I visited some stations of the cross for my birthday last week and was most drawn to this image: Jesus speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem. Even though he was literally dying, so weak he couldn’t carry his cross anymore, Jesus saw these women crying and stopped to let them know. He acknowledged their pain, even as he was experiencing so much of his own. And he called them daughters, revealing God’s parental Love that keeps finding and saving us.

It is this love that can soften us to new life this Lent. Jesus said, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24.) He was talking about his own dying, and us as the new seeds that would come by faith. If we are seeds, then we’re also meant to break open into something new. That process sounds drastic and painful, but the way that it actually happens according to seeds is by a gentle and gradual softening in the ground, a yielding and decay of the outer seed wall in order to release the potential inside. 

I’m comforted by this metaphor that God does not expect us to reinvent ourselves out of thin air or manufacture a new self. Jesus is talking about yielding to a process that God does in and for us, that reveals our fullest life. Instead of striving for goodness we can let go of our defenses. We’re invited to get vulnerable and let each other in. Our beliefs that we are unworthy or hopelessly stuck can fall away. We become open to the presence of a loving higher power who is helping us attend to this new life and keeping us in the soil together. 

I appreciate the words of the poet Dinos Christianopoulos that have been used by liberation movements around the world: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” He was sidelined by the Greek literary community because he was gay, but he could see the overcoming power of nature in himself and his friends. 

You may feel buried by your own struggles this Lent, like those daughters of Jerusalem buried by grief. There’s a lot to grieve and worry about these days, even as pandemic life is opening up a bit again. But maybe our struggles can help melt our seed walls. Maybe we can ask each other for help. Maybe there is a new tender sprout of us forming in the hiddenness of the earth, evidence of who God saw us to be all along. The apostle Paul said that our lives are hidden with Christ in God! So that even if we feel buried for a long time we can trust that something new is growing in the darkness. May Jesus lead the way for us this Lent, revealing that even though this process takes a lifetime, God doesn’t stop short of miraculous resurrection. 

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

This week a friend reminded me that Nightbirde, the lovely singer who got famous last year on America’s Got Talent with her original song “It’s Ok” passed away from her struggle with cancer. She was 31 years old.

I watched her performance there again on Youtube and it moved me, partly because her circumstances were really not ok. And that’s what her song is actually about – that it’s okay not not be ok.  Her husband of 5 years left her when she got her second diagnosis a few years back. She didn’t know how she could fight for her life alone, with this heartbreak. She realized she had to forgive him, in order to heal in any way, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Her faith in Jesus guided her through the suffering. As I looked into her story, I found out that before she was diagnosed, she had stopped pursuing music for 3 years because she felt like it had become an idol in her life and was hurting her relationships. And then she got diagnosed with breast cancer,  after that sacrifice, and was like, what the heck God?! I gave up my dreams to focus on you and this is what I get?

But during her treatment, she felt like God was saying to her, I want you to look me in the face. And what she realized when she looked God directly in the face, often on the bathroom floor, so sick she couldn’t move for months on end, is that she was LOVED beyond anything she could do to earn that love, beyond any love she had ever known before.

She was able to forgive her husband who left her, partly inspired by the little allegory I keep telling you about: Hinds Feet on High Places. In that story, the main character runs into a beautiful little flower growing out of a rock, and finds out the flower’s name is “Bearing the Cost,” or “Forgiveness.” This flower had been displaced, by no fault of her own, but decided to put roots where she got left, and was watered by drops that fell on the rock and became every bit as beautiful as she was meant to be. Nightbirde realized that she didn’t need to wait for “the other person” to apologize or understand. She could bloom where she was planted in these terrible circumstances. She recalled the parable that Jesus tells about the weeds, where he instructs his disciples not to pull them up, because they might pull up the good crops with the weeds. Her message became that if you try to avoid the hardship in your life, you’ll probably pull up the good work that God is doing there, too.

She wrote in a blog post: “Maybe we missed it—what God showed us when he first introduced himself: that he will crawl into the dirt to be near us.” And she chose her stage name because she dreamt about birds singing in the darkness for three nights in a row. In other blog posts she wrote:

“I remind myself that I’m praying to the God who let the Israelites stay lost for decades. They begged to arrive in the Promised Land, but instead he let them wander, answering prayers they didn’t pray. And for 40 years, their shoes didn’t wear out. Fire lit their path each night. Every morning, he sent them mercy bread from heaven…

When it comes to pain, God isn’t often in the business of taking it away… He is more of a giver than a taker. He doesn’t take away my darkness, he adds light. He doesn’t spare me of thirst, he brings water. He doesn’t cure my loneliness, he comes near. So why do we believe that when we are in pain, it must mean that God is far?

I am still reeling, drenched in sorrow. I am still begging, bargaining, demanding, disappearing. And I guess that means I have all the more reason to say thank you because God is drawing near to me. Again. Again. Again. No matter how many times he is sent away.”

I’m telling you all this not to glamourize suffering (there is nothing glamorous about it) but to offer the seed of possibility that lent holds: that letting God and others in to what we’re going through will lead to transformation. The cross is humanity’s bathroom floor, and Jesus meets us there this season, bearing the cost, grieving with people of Ukraine and all those who are oppressed. Being open and seeking God in our suffering, which is often called confession, enables us to be more in solidarity with one another and to experience how God is in solidarity with us.

So I want to invite us this week to open our eyes to grief and suffering instead of pushing it away like we naturally want to do… I know this might sound very counterproductive and melodramatic after two years in a pandemic and tons of social and relational upheaval. But I want to propose to you that letting ourselves feel it (instead of just trying to move on) might help us come through it transformed, like Jesus. Our patient awareness might help reveal what matters in it, like Nightbirde’s family said after she died, “Grieving is the soul’s way of saying this mattered.” Getting in touch with our need might help us look into the face of God and see how much we’re loved and valued.  If we can resist the urge to pull up the weeds of hardship in our lives, the crops of goodness that are growing there too might come to maturity.

I’m getting into the plant metaphor that is our guide this Lent. I hope it expands our imaginations about who the Holy Spirit is and how she works and what she might be able to do with our grief and suffering, in ways that we literally can’t see right now at the beginning of the journey.

Our worship leaders are  inviting us to paint mycelium networks all over these brown fabric panels in the room, coming out from the cross. (If you don’t know about mycelium, don’t worry, I just learned about it a few months ago when my son got into foraging for mushrooms.) Mycelium is this microscopic network of fungus that creates healthy soil. It breaks things down into nutrients that can be transferred from one plant to another. The mushroom is just the fruit of the bacteria that is a vast and powerful NETWORK that is woven all throughout the soil, to the tune of 8 miles in every square inch! You might have heard of this called “the woodwide web,” because mycelium actually helps trees communicate with one another and assist each other. Mycelium can carry distress signals and then respond by sending more nutrients to other plants and trees that need it. The biggest trees could never survive without these little tiny networks that provide sustenance and connection. You can see how mycelium looks like lung passageways too, or blood vessels. This is the stuff of life, which is also the stuff of change and transformation.

Another way to see mycelium at work is in a compost pile. Composting is a way to turn food scraps into rich soil for new things to grow. The food scraps are mixed with other organic material, like straw, and twigs, and grass clippings, and mycelium starts to grow in this mix to break down the food scraps into fertile soil, powerful enough to break new seeds open so they can germinate and take root and become fresh food.

The nature of the power here, that I want us to note, is in death and decay. This is the upside-down truth of the spiritual life, too. The form of the thing has to fundamentally CHANGE in order to produce new life. This is the hard part for us humans. For a seed to break open in the ground, the seed has to “die.” Jesus said, “unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it will produce an abundant harvest.” He was talking about himself and everyone who follows him. Our hard outer shells have to break open to release the potential energy of who we’re meant to become. Mycelium helps to do that gently, but powerfully, in the earth, and we could compare it to the power of the Spirit in our lives, working through us together.

This is our invitation to Lent. Realizing that the Spirit connects us, and allowing her to gently break us open to change, so we can become the fullness of who we’re designed to be. We could simply start by admitting that it’s okay to not be okay, and nurture a tiny willingness to let God work in our hardship and not avoid it. Recognizing our sadness and frustration, as well as our hope and longing. The apostle James says “confess your sins to one another to be healed.”

The Holy Spirit helps us gently, like a mycelium network, but it’s still uncomfortable, especially for us Americans, and especially for those of us with more social privilege than others. Who wants to admit that you’re not okay? Not me. I was trained to be okay, to keep the whole system running. And the older I get, the more I realize how oppressive and unnecessary that was. Jesus has a new way in mind that isn’t a system, it’s a life where we get to be fully human. Breathing and changing, allowing the Spirit to keep transforming us as we cooperate with grace. After all, we are organic, too! One of my favorite Jesus-followers, paleontologist Tielhard de Chardin wrote this great little note about this spiritual process of transformation we’re in, individually and together, based on how it works in the earth:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you. your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Our church has been in a real process of transformation over the past year and a half. Our founding pastors retired at the same time we felt a deeper call to racial justice. The process has not gone as I have anticipated. It has been very difficult. But God keeps calling me to a deeper surrender to the process of his Spirit moving in our Body. It really is the process that the apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians – that the parts of the body that have received less honor must receive greater honor so the whole body can heal and work together. Centering the voices of BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and disabled persons among us connects us in a new and necessary way. Recognizing and tending to the suffering in our own body allows us all to be more fully human.

We could think about the invitation to Lent like bringing ourselves to God’s compost pile, acknowledging our need for the Spirit’s healing work. We could compost our grief and suffering instead of hiding and avoiding it in the regular garbage, where it’s instantly out of sight and out of mind.

Do you know what happens when you put food scraps in the regular trash? They not only don’t get a chance to break down and regenerate into new food, they get stuck between layers of plastics and other non-organic matter that produces methane that harms the atmosphere. The quick fix really doesn’t work, which can be compared to our avoidance and resistance to letting God see and help us metabolize our pain.

We have 40 days to make a proverbial compost pile of our grief and sin to see what God can do, slowly and gently, to make us soft and fertile for new life. I hope the plant metaphor helps to remind you that this is a natural process; even though it’s uncomfortable and difficult (dirty and stinky, if you go with the metaphor), we’re made for it. Jesus died and is risen, so this transformation process won’t stay in the grave with us either. It will make something new of us. 

Let’s take it one gentle step at a time, being gentle with ourselves though as God is toward us. I saw an older woman jogging in FDR park the other day, and she was hobbling along so feebly, with such tiny, painful-looking steps that I felt so much gentleness for her. And God said to me something like, “Rachel, that’s how I feel about you and your process. Here you are being so hard on yourself, but I have the same feeling of gentleness and compassion for you as you do for that lady.” Can we trust in God’s heart for us this Lent, enough to acknowledge what we want and need? Like Nightbirde discovered the suffering face of Christ in her own, you are each seen and loved with an immoveable Love that can bring us through changes.

God, in all that is not ok, meet us this season. Show us your face, on the bathroom floor or wherever. Help us not avoid our suffering or the suffering of others. Help us to see and accept ourselves and others in deeper, fuller ways, connected by your Spirit who is working to transform us into nourishment for the world.