Last year in February I started planning my birthday. It was my 50th, and I planned a bash. We rented out our building’s Party Room, planned the menu with my good friend Kim Callis (an excellent personal chef), sent out invitations, and The Hubby and I were shopping for party favors and decorations. A week and a half before Shawna’s 50th Birthday Bash, we canceled–the state of Illinois was shutting down and sheltering-in-place for two months (hah!). I thought I could reschedule for June. Then a friend with a yard talked about having a cook-out for those of us who had pandemic birthdays at the end of the summer. Now I’m looking at my second pandemic birthday still sheltering-in-place. Needless to say, I haven’t done much planning this year. I did see a cool cake recipe on Nadia Bakes that I am going to make for myself Friday.
So I’m practicing contentment. Am I going out for my birthday this year? No. Will I see my friends? No. That’s OK. I am content. My husband and I are healthy and so are our families. Our moms and older family members have all been vaccinated. We are having gorgeous spring weather in Chicago (I have windows open as I write this). We are financially sound and have a comfortable home that is more sanctuary and less prison to us even after a year of this. I have plenty in my life to be happy about and feel content about. So maybe a party next year.
Like gratitude and joy, you have to be paying attention and be mindful to practice contentment. Once again it is normally the small things that bring the most contentment: a hug, a smile, sunlight through the window, a cup of coffee before anyone else is up, enjoying the quiet.
Contentment and Consumerism
I think this is an important practice to cultivate in our consumer culture. We are constantly told we aren’t enough, and we don’t have enough, or what we have isn’t good enough. But this company’s product will solve all of our problems! I think one of the most counter-cultural actions American Christians can practice is to be content–being content with who we are and with what we have. Not to say we shouldn’t have ambitions and plans, but those ambitions and plans should be about more than getting another tech toy or car or another diet to lose 15 pounds.
I am content with my quiet birthday at home this year. I’m also content with another virtual Holy Week and Easter. I am looking forward to being vaccinated and finally seeing and hugging (there will be a lot of hugging) my friends and finally returning to our church building and worshiping in Grace’s sanctuary. I am also looking forward to not being anxious when there are too many people around. But until I can do that safely for all of the people I love, I am content to shelter-in-place and celebrate (hopefully my last) pandemic birthday.
What about you? What are feeling content about? Where do you find contentment in your life?
When a few different friends told me they weren’t sure if they were going to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, I knew what Lenten practice I was going to focus on for this week: Practicing Joy. Of course, I celebrate the day differently than most people. I don’t go out for amateur hour bar hops, and green beer really just doesn’t interest me. I treat St. Patrick’s Day like I do any other holiday: I cook and bake and have people over. It sucks I can’t have friends over this year, but I have a terrific menu lined up for The Hubby and me, and we will be celebrating Wednesday.
Joy in the Little Things
The longer the pandemic went on the more and more obvious it became how important the spiritual fruit of joy–and noticing the joy in my own life–was going to be to help live with the depression, anxiety, and obsessing over how long this new way of life was going to last. Just as I found ways to practice kindness and gratitude, I found little things every day that brought me joy: learning a new recipe, writing a haiku, cuddling with my husband, and reading a good book. Like kindness and gratitude, I discovered practicing joy also depended on paying attention to the little things. If I waited for big things like going to church, seeing our families, or traveling, joy was going to be hard to come by.
I noticed my friends also taking joy in the little things. A wonderful friend out in Galena, IL, Cindy, posts her morning walk pictures on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. Her photos always include the sunrise, and honestly, it’s the only way I see the sunrise. Monique found great joy in getting her second Covid-19 vaccination. The weather filled Kate with joy when it actually acted like it was spring in March in Chicago, and she dug out her lawn furniture to enjoy the sun in her yard. My husband finds his joy on Friday Night Pizza Night complete with homemade pizza.
Practicing Joy Chicago-Style
The resilience of Chicagoans being able to find joy always impresses me. Last month when we had over four feet of snow, and the temperatures dropped to single digits, a person was photographed joyfully skiing through Grant Park. The kids didn’t care how cold it was, they were sledding and building armies of snowmen in all the parks. Two incredibly talented people sculpted the Eiffel Tower out of snow in the Logan Square neighborhood. Even Paris took joy in that!
I remember when I was younger, very little brought me joy. As Yoda described Luke Skywalker: “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh.” I was the same in my 20s (aren’t we all?)–always looking for something else somewhere else to make me happy. Rarely noticing what was right in front of me. One of the blessings of being middle-aged is being able to see what is right in front of me and appreciating it. Taking joy in it.
What is right in front of you these days? When you stop looking to the future and notice the here and now, what is giving you joy? How will you practice joy (and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day) this week?
Practicing gratitude is this week’s theme? I can already see you roll your eyes. Yes, I know this is a cliched buzzword, which probably explains why I had only one friend respond to my inquiry on how are you practicing gratitude these days.
In Chicago, we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the governor’s shelter-in-place order. This coming Sunday my church will observe the anniversary of shutting our doors and going online at our bishop’s command. On Friday my husband and I will celebrate sheltering-in-place for a year in a 970 square foot condo. Guess what? We still like each other! We still get along! We aren’t in marriage counseling, and we are not heading toward divorce. If you would’ve told me that incredible man could be locked up with me for a year and still want to be my husband, I wouldn’t have believed you. And that’s why gratitude is so important. It reminds us of how important the little things are. If we will only stop and see them.
James Reho notes that the New Age “attitude of gratitude” is “associated with a surface-level, Pollyanna type of spirituality that avoids the hard facts and sets us up on a pink cloud. The attitude of gratitude often presents as nothing more than a platitude.” That is why I’ve rolled my eyes in the past, and you are now rolling your eyes over this week’s Lenten practice. But The Rev. Reho goes on to say: “…deep strands in Christian spirituality and other spiritual traditions—highlight gratitude and thanksgiving as an integral part of spiritual maturity. St. Paul links giving thanks to joy in life: ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18).'”
Practicing Gratitude in Action
Last year I decided when I prayed Compline* my personal prayers would be thanksgivings and gratitudes. We just started sheltering-in-place, and I knew my cynical, sarcastic self needed limits on how much grousing I did. I spent my time in Morning Prayer and through the day asking God for what I wanted (and telling God what I thought she ought to be doing). I decided before bed I would thank God for what I have and what she’s done.
Soon, I started noticing how this practice made me more mindful of my day. I realized many of the things I was grateful for were little things. The sun shining through the window after a few cloudy, gray days. The smell of bread baking. My husband’s smile. Hearing my mom’s voice. Seeing my family on a Christmas Zoom call. I thought it would be difficult for me to come up with three things I was grateful for each night, but it was a rare night I only had three things to be grateful for.
Miracles of Ordinary Life
This is why gratitude leads us into spiritual maturity: it makes us see what is right in front of us, name it, and thank God for opening our eyes to the multitude of miracles that happen to us every day. In “Thankful for Being Here” The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire writes:
Miracles surround us, but we miss them most of the time. We make it harder on ourselves to see the abundance of miracles that crowd around us because we too often look for the dazzling, the shockingly out of place.
Today, of all days, may we give thanks for the quotidian miracles of each day, each breath, each worthwhile task that fill sour days with purpose, each lesson we’ve taken away when something didn’t go as we planned. Perhaps this is the thanks that we should be giving.
I like my practice of gratitude because it makes me aware of the little movements of the Holy Spirit in my life. It is all too easy to be cynical. Buying into the negativity that drives our national life and culture is far too easy. It is a discipline–a spiritual discipline–to practice gratitude. But when we do, we notice the many ways God is moving in our lives. We notice a multitude of things right in front of us. We can be truly thankful to a God who meets us in the little, ordinary places in our lives.
Last year when we began to social distance and shelter in place, we said it was “the lentiest Lent we ever lented.” Little did we know Lent was going to last for a year (at least). As we now walk through our second Lent during this pandemic, many of us entered this season thinking: Oh hell no. I’m not giving up anything else. (Yes, I was one of those people.) Friends reminded me Lent was not just about giving things up, but also adding practices, like practicing kindness, that bring us closer to God.
As a result, I decided to be kind to myself and find God in what I was already doing. That got me thinking that maybe what we need to do this Lent is this: discover ways to find God in the wilderness we’ve been in for the last year, and this includes practicing kindness–both self-kindness and kindness to others.
As this world crisis continues, I need to make space for all of my feelings and be kind to myself. This does not come naturally for me. I am a slightly obsessive-complusive perfectionist with clinical depression. After four months of sheltering in place, I realized I was going to have to cut myself some slack. I needed to learn self-compassion if I was going to make it through this (not to mention if my husband was going to make it through this).
How am I kind to myself? I tell myself:
It’s OK to be sad.
Being depressed is the “new normal” for a lot of people, and it’s fine. If I need additional help, I have a great psychiatrist.
I’m not the only one who misses hugging friends and seeing family.
It’s OK to be a chatterbox at Trader Joe’s because I can talk to the cashier in 3D.
I can veg out to The Great British Baking Show and Nadiya Bakes whenever I want.
I wanted to see what others were saying about self-kindness and discovered The Mayo Clinic has a good, short article with several ideas on how to be kind to yourself. They recommend you choose one idea to practice this week. If you want a more in-depth read, head to The Kindness Blog (yes–there is an entire blog on kindness!), to read about 40 ways to be kind to yourself. Here are the ones I thought of off the top of my head:
Deep breathing to offset stress.
Have one person you can call or text anytime and be honest with.
Create a support network: spread all of the kindness you can!
Indulge in your hobbies.
Permit yourself to binge on the streaming service of your choice.
Remember: naps are a good thing.
Just because Shakespeare wrote whatever play during The Plague doesn’t mean you have to create a masterpiece. (That meme got old real fast: this is NOT practicing kindness.)
These are extraordinary times
I also asked friends what they were doing to be nice to themselves. They echoed some things I had thought of and other things I hadn’t. Chris told me unapologetically that she had taken a long nap that afternoon and didn’t care! Melissa wrote, she’s “giving myself permission to eat what I want, making myself go on longer walks with the dog, and being honest with friends when I’m feeling shitty.” And Kate said “I’m trying to get all the sunshine I can. I get outside a little at lunch and sometimes move my computer to the back window, which gets full sun in the mornings.” Of course, her cats have a different idea about who should get the sunny window.
Criselda went on to say it’s OK to go to “Sonic nearly every day for a drink or cup of ice so that I also have some safe interaction with someone.” (Likewise, my mother-in-law goes through the McDonald’s drive-thru for her Diet Coke for a safe way to get out of the house for a while.) Meagan is reading more intentionally to deepen her relationship with God, and Beatrice is forgiving herself. She says, “Right now is HARD, and I can’t make things better for my kids. I can’t fix it. We just have to get through, and if that means we play video games for three days, then we play video games for three days. It doesn’t make me a bad parent, these are extraordinary times.”
As Beatrice said: “These are extraordinary times.” Yes, they are. So what about you? Are you walking through this Lenten season differently this year? What are you telling yourself? And most importantly: how are you being kind to yourself?
Into the Wilderness
Numbers 21:4-9 (Lent B, Week 4)
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live (Numbers 22:4-9, NRSV).
Where in the world did this reading from the Hebrew Scriptures come from? For the most part we can blame Jesus. In today’s Gospel reading he refers to this story when he says, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” At first it appears that the lectionary is proof-texting: they threw this story in this week because of what was said in the New Testament. Of course the assumption is that whoever is preaching is going to shy away from the crazy, whacked out Old Testament reading and go straight to the Gospel reading where Jesus is talking about God’s love. But we all know me better than that. I think there is more going on with this reading than just being chosen because of the allusion Jesus made in John’s gospel.
This reading also looks out of left field when compared to the other readings from the Hebrew Scriptures for this season of Lent. The readings for this Lent are devoted to covenant. We began with God’s covenant with Noah then moved onto God’s covenant with Sarah and Abraham. Last week we looked at the 10 commandments which were the beginning of God’s covenant with Israel. Next week we will be reading from the prophet Jeremiah about the new covenant God will institute after the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon. But this week we have this passage from Numbers about God sending fiery serpents among a complaining and whining people, and we wonder what in the world this has to do with covenant. Quite a lot actually once we consider what the book of Numbers is about and where the people are in their covenant with God at this point.
If you open to the book in the Bible you understand why it is called Numbers: we begin with a riveting census of the number of men above the age of 20 who can go to war followed by another riveting census of the Levite men who will take care of the tabernacle and other holy objects in the wilderness. In the wilderness is the Hebrew name for this book, which I think much more accurately reflects the theology of Numbers.
In the wilderness is where the Israelites will spend this entire book. They begin at Sinai after the covenant has been established. The first few chapters establish how the Israelite camp will be set up, and how they will order themselves when God commands them to move. Other instructions are given then we are told that Israel obeys all God has commended and they pack up and head out for the Promised Land. It seems like a pretty good start. It doesn’t last for long.
The people immediately start complaining and different judgments from God start happening in response. This will be a theme through Numbers: the people rebel and complain and God disciplines and punishes. Another theme through Numbers is who should be the rightful leaders of Israel? Not everyone thought it should be Moses, not even Moses’ own sister and brother: Miriam and Aaron. 70 elders do help Moses govern the people, but the question becomes should Moses be the one at the top. To be fair there are times when even Moses doesn’t think he should be the one in charge. But God thinks otherwise. There are three leadership rebellions in Numbers beginning with Miriam and Aaron’s challenge, and in all three stories God makes it clear that Moses’ is her chosen leader.
In between these episodes of complaining and rebellion are chapters 13-14. The entire book of Numbers swings around these two chapters and the people’s greatest rebellion and failure in the book. This rebellion isn’t against Moses: it’s against God.
The people have come to the borders of the Promised Land and spies were sent to scope out the land before the conquest began. The find everything as God promised: it is a land flowing with milk and honey. But the people of the land are great warriors, even a couple of tribes of warrior giants remain in the land. Of the 12 spies sent only two encourage the people to obey God, to trust God and go up and take the land: Caleb and Joshua. The other 10 spies give a bad report and tell the people if they go up they will die. The people listen to the 10, and they refuse to obey God and enter the land promised to them.
God does not take the rebellion well and turns the people’s own words into their punishment. The people say they will die fighting to take the land. No, God says, they will die in the wilderness because no one in the first generation to leave Egypt will enter the land. They say their children will be taken as booty and be slaves to the people who are currently occupying the land. No, God says, their children will be the ones to enter the land and live on its abundance. The spies spied out the land for 40 days, so Israel’s punishment will be to wander in the wilderness for 40 years while the older generation dies out and the younger generation, which will be listed in a new census in Numbers 26, become adults.
Needless to say, the people are immediately grief stricken and repent over their lack of faith and rebellion. They decide that no they will obey God and take the land. But it is too little too late. Moses warns them that he, the Ark of the Covenant and God will not go with the people, but once again they do not listen. The go up and are immediately repelled and defeated by the land’s occupants. They wander in the wilderness for the next 40 years where more rebellions and complaining happen and that is where our story picks up.
This story is one of the last complaining stories in Numbers. It has been 40 years. The last of the old generation is dying off, and few more of them die off in this story, and the next generation is getting ready to take their place. In the previous chapter both Miriam and Aaron die. Even Moses disobeyed God and will not be allowed to enter the land with the people. His second in command Joshua will lead the next generation into the land promised by God.
And here’s where covenant comes in. The covenant was made on Sinai 40 years ago to a generation that is almost dead. The new generation has grown up in the wilderness hearing about the covenant God made with her people. But they are not there yet. It’s been 40 years, the promises have not been fulfilled, and they are still eating manna: “this miserable food” that after 40 years they’ve grown to detest. When will it change? When will they get there? When will the covenant and the promises be fulfilled?
To date we’ve just looked at the high points of covenant: the promises made to Noah and to Sarah and Abraham. The giving of the 10 commandments after God delivered the people out of Egypt parting the Red Sea. But covenant isn’t just about the high points. Covenant is also about the daily slog. It’s also about staying faithful to this God when there isn’t much of a reason to be faithful. The book of Numbers is the daily grind of what it means to be in covenant with this particular God. It’s not easy. The one thing the Bible makes abundantly clear is that life with God is not easy. My favorite C. S. Lewis quote is on this topic. From God in the Dock Lewis says: “As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
This is what Israel is discovering in the Book of Numbers. Life with God will not be easy. Yes, God did deliver them from bondage in Egypt but God demands obedience and absolute fidelity in return. And as all of us know that is easier said than done.
This is a very relevant reading for this time in Lent. Week 4. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking, “Good God will Lent never end” at this point. But this is life with this God. We get a microcosm of this life every year during this season as we consciously remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, and we remember that no one is without sin, and we need not only to repent but also reconcile with those who have been hurt by our sinful actions. It’s part of our daily life with this God who calls us to be a holy people, obedient to her alone.
Fiery serpents probably aren’t going to erupt out of the ground when we sin, but there is a very timely reminder for us in this story regarding sin. God didn’t take away the snakes. The snakes were the consequences of the people’s sin, and God did not deliver them from those consequences. God did give the people a way to live with them. That is another part of our Lenten journey. Yes, sin is forgiven, but we still have to deal with consequences of our own sinful actions; they don’t just disappear. There are apologies and reconciliations. There are changes—sometimes painful changes that have to be made.
We may need the help of others to repent and change: 12 step programs or a good psychiatrist. Part of life with this God is dealing with the consequences of sin, but God doesn’t leave us alone as we deal with those consequences just as she didn’t leave the Israelites alone. Strength and courage we didn’t know we have springs from our guts. Friends call and say, “Have you thought about this?” A line from a sermon or a hymn gives renewed energy to take that extra step toward the healing and forgiveness we need.
At the end of the day I like this reminder from Numbers that this journey with God is a long one. It’s a long obedience. It might have something to do with being raised in evangelical churches that put more emphasis on dramatic conversion stories that ignore those like me who have lived and walked with God most of our lives and don’t have these stories. I have no dramatic conversion story. I’ve always known God was there. I’ve always walked with God, and it hasn’t been easy. It’s been a long haul as it was for the Israelites in the wilderness, and I’m sure it will continue to be that way. The testimony of Numbers is that this life, this long obedience, is normal. It takes a long time to get life with God right, and that’s OK because God never gives up on us.
Even in the midst of the rebellions and complaining in Numbers there are these passages of how the people will live in the land once they get there. It’s a little confusing when you’re reading through Numbers to see the action come to an abrupt stop as all of these laws pertaining to priests, Levites and purity codes—such as how to become ritually pure after you touch a dead body—are described in exacting detail. But these are reassurances to these people who are trying to figure out how to walk with this God and getting it more wrong than they get it right. God never gives up on them. Most of these passages begin with the words: “When you come into the land.” WHEN you come into the land, not if. The people might have trouble being faithful to God, but God never has trouble being faithful to the people she has called.
We may have problems being faithful to this God who has called us, but this God has no trouble being faithful to us. And for all of our long hauls—our long obedience—that is good news.
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The five daughters of Zelophehad who stood up to Moses when they thought the Law was unfair, and God said they were right.
The Wise Woman of Abel who saved her town from a besieging army.
The woman who would not take no for an answer, even when the no came from Jesus.
Get reacquainted with women, whose whole stories you may not of heard:
Deborah the judge and military leader, who led Israel’s armies into battle.
Career-woman Priscilla who was a tent-maker missionary and teacher with her husband.
Phoebe, a pastor and patron in the New Testament church, whom Paul entrusted to deliver his letter to the churches in Rome.
Women both now and in the Bible wore multiple hats and had many different roles to balance. Having complicated lives is nothing new! This Lent listen to these women’s stories of how they found and obeyed God in the midst of very complicated circumstances in very complex lives. What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School can be used for individual and group Bible studies as well for your devotions. This book will guide you through a self-directed Bible study of each woman, and at the end you will find suggestions and resources for continuing to study the women of the Bible. It is available in paperback and Kindle versions.
If you order What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School between now and my birthday, March 26, your name will be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon.com gift card. Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your order number from Wipf & Stock Publishers or Amazon.com, and I will put your name in the hat. I will announce the winner on my birthday.
If you live in the Chicagoland area and would like me to speak at your church, Bible Study, or schedule a book signing, please Email me.
If you’re a women a shawl, scarf or pashima that can used as a head covering. If you’re a man a clay jar or other container.
Returning from Exile
(Put on the prayer shawl or yamika.)
May by the prophets really are nuts. We all know the stories: Isaiah running around Jerusalem naked. Not that anyone remembers what his point was–he was running around Jerusalem naked. Hosea marrying a whore to prove Judah’s idolatry was harlotry, and Ezekiel. Now there was a loon. Ezekiel came with the first group of exiles shipped to Babylon. He laid bound up one side for months then rolled over and laid bound up on the other side for months. Something about how long we’d be in exile. Did you know that man didn’t even mourn when his wife died? Said God told him not to because God wouldn’t mourn for the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple. We Jews are used to our prophets being a little…unbalanced.
I think being in exile so long has unhinged this new group of prophets. Running around saying that some uncircumcised, pagan, Gentile is God’s anointed. Anointed by God like King David. Oh I know Cyrus and his Persian army are making trouble for Babylon, but to call him God’s anointed, and say God is going to use him to send us back to Israel. Like that is ever going to happen. But these prophets keep yammering on about God doing new things—things that will amaze us and dazzle us. They keep talking about rivers springing up in the desert, and God turning the wilderness into an oasis. Talk that’s all it is. We’ve been here for 80 years. Jerusalem was razed to the ground and the Temple with it. We aren’t going anywhere.
I ate every single one of those words. Those loony prophets were right! God did it! God did something totally new! Who ever heard of an emperor letting captives go back to their native land? But Cyrus did! He sent us home! And he returned all of the things that were in the Temple plus what we would need to rebuild the city and the Temple! And it’s a good thing too. Because we’re going to need every penny. The Babylonians literally did flatten Jerusalem. We have a lot of work to do, both building and farming. We have to have enough food to eat. But we are here. God really is sovereign over every ruler on earth. God did not forsake us. God brought us back. And we will rebuild this city and this country. Not just for us. We will rebuild for our children and for all the generations that will come after them.
(Pick up the Bible.)
People think I’m a little over the top. They say I only see black and white or good and evil. They say I like to rant, and that I’m not all the eloquent. Well what do they expect? Jewish prophets have always been melodramatic. Our people have always known how to get your attention and make our point. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that I’m a zealot. Whatever I do, I go all the way. When I was studying to be a Pharisee, I was always at the top of my class. So you know, I have the equivalent of five or six Ph. Ds in this: The Hebrew Scriptures. I studied with the best teachers, and I kept the Law. I did everything I could to climb the ecclesiastical ladder as fast as I could. When a cult started by this upstart carpenter, who had gotten himself crucified, started taking over the Temple and declaring the Law to be a thing of the past, I was more than happy to help put them away. I wanted to keep the Jewish faith pure. I hunted those people down and threw them into prison. I helped execute them.
Then this crucified carpenter, this Jesus, got hold of me, and I became as zealous for him as I had been for the Law. A lot has happened in the last 30 years, since I found myself blind by the side of the road to Damascus. Christianity has spread across the Empire, and I’m here in Rome. Not the way I wanted to be, awaiting a trial before Caesar. But I am here, and I still preach the Gospel. That one thing has never changed. To whoever listens I tell them about the all-encompassing love of Christ. When I tell the Philippines that I would give up everything to know Christ, they know I’m not exaggerating. I’ve already given up so much: my career, my reputation, my family. I have suffered. What I dealt out to Christians those many years ago, I have now experienced. I’ve been in prison, been beaten, and ran for my life. I haven’t been executed, yet.
I’ve done all of this for one reason: to know Christ. Knowing Christ is worth everything I gave up, everything I loss when I chose to follow him. Christ suffered before he was resurrected. As he said no student is above the teacher. I know all of my suffering has not been in vain. I have come to Christ through my sufferings, and one day my hope is that I will know his resurrection as well. And fully know him as he knows me.
I’m always in awe of how Jesus came back to Jerusalem knowing the suffering and death that awaited him. And Mary, dear Mary who like the prophets before her, performed an outrageous act to prepare him for that final journey to Jerusalem.
Mary of Bethany
(Take off prayer shawl/yamika and put on the head covering, or pick up the clay jar.)
Bethany is not that far from Jerusalem. I hear all of the talk, all of the gossip. I know the Jewish leaders want to kill Jesus. I’m sure they’re even more determined now that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus. I can’t believe my brother is sitting there, talking and laughing with Jesus and all of our friends. We’re having a big feast to celebrate. People have been in and out of the house all day to see Lazarus alive. There’s whispers and talk all around about revolution; how Jesus will march into Rome and overthrow the pagan overloads. Even the 12 are talking of revolution. It makes me wonder if they’ve been listening to the same teachings I’ve heard at his feet. Do they just tune him out when he says he’s going to die? They don’t want to hear it. They want a king, and the power that comes from being in the king’s inner circle. They are not listening. Either to Jesus or the rumblings of Jerusalem’s ruling elite who will do whatever they have to to hold onto their power. This Messiah will not be going to Jerusalem to be crowned. He is going to Jerusalem to die.
I come out of my revery and realize that I need to go see if Martha needs any help. Then I see it—the jar of nard. Very expensive nard. We had bought it for Lazarus’ burial. It hadn’t been used. I knew what I needed to do. I peeked into the room and everyone was settling around the table. I waited. I waited until they were settled and started eating.
I took the perfume and walked to where Jesus was reclining. I wasn’t going to anoint his head—kings had their heads anointed. I wasn’t going to do anything to feed their illusions. I knelt at this feet. The last pair of feet I had anointed has been Lazarus’ for his burial. I felt the stares. I broke open the jar and poured the nard over Jesus’ feet—all of it. I heard the gasps as people smelled the expensive perfumed mixture. I gently rubbed it into his feet—those roughened feet that soon would be making their last journey. I reached for a towel to wipe off the excess when it hit me I hadn’t grabbed a towel. I always forget something. An idea flickered in my mind. I took out the pins that held my hair. As my hair tumbled around me, another round of gasps echoed around the room. A respectable woman wouldn’t do that! I didn’t care. With my hair, I wiped the oil from his feet. I looked up and Jesus’ eyes met mine. His eyes echoed my thoughts. We both knew. It was a holy moment.
Until an indignant voice broke the holy moment. “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?”
Judas. Of course, it was Judas. Like he had any concern for the poor. He just wanted to line his own pockets.
I took a breath to say as much when Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me with you.”
The room was silent. No one wanted to admit what Jesus said was true. He wasn’t here to reorder one nation according to their standards. He was here to turn the world, as we knew it, on it’s head and bring the kingdom of God—the reign of God—to this very world. But for that to happen first he had to face his destiny in Jerusalem.
A little over a week ago my ebook posted on why I had suddenly disappeared after all the posts and fun in March: I got sick. And not just sick with one thing. I’ve spent the last three weeks being sick or recovering from being sick. It has not been pleasant. I think it all began back in March when I stopped taking care of myself. When I thought I could push myself for a month, and it would be OK. I was wrong. I think Godde took particular pleasure in some of my favorite people writing about the importance of self-care last week.
Are you proud of your self-care? Or do you try to hide it?
Women can be excellent stoics. We can feel bad asking for help. We may want to appear “normal,” lest others think we are too high maintenance.
Think of the word “needy:” it implies fragility. Something to avoid. To hide.
When we drive ourselves hard, we suffer. When we neglect our basic needs for healthy food, sleep, alone time, and exercise, we suffer. We suffer because we’re ungrounded, and then we suffer again when we beat ourselves up for feeling funky and inside out.
Then my good friend Alexia Petrakos wrote this in her Customer Love post:
You are your greatest asset. And there’s only one of you. Unless, of course, you’ve managed to clone yourself. In which case, contact me now because we need to talk.
And since there’s only one of you, you need to take care of you.
This means eating right, exercising, showering (!), spending time with your family, reading, goofing off, vegging in front of the TV, going to parks, movies, museums, art galleries, taking art lessons or karate lessons, going for coffee with your friends.
This means filling your own well before you fill others. The Permission Fairies say it’s OK.
If you’re spent, you can’t give your best
Love yourself, be kind to yourself, before you love on your customers. They can tell when you’re fully alive and when you’re half-dead.
DOUBLE OUCH. You see in February I wrote a post for Customer Love called: If You Want to Love Your Customers, Love YOU First. Um…yeah…I wrote about this topic two months ago. I’m really bad about taking my own advice.
It hasn’t helped this is Lent on top of it. Lent is a time of self-discipline and self-denial. My Lenten discipline lasted three weeks this year before I got sick and hasn’t happened since. So I don’t feel like self care should be a big thing right now anyway. This time of the year is about self-denial, not self-care. Of course my self-denial led to getting sick, not working, and not being able to follow through on my Lenten discipline. Didn’t that work out well?
Thank you. It’s so hard for me to separate self-care and indulgence, but I think you’re right about routine… Indulgence happens when you deprive yourself of the things that nourish you for too long.
I think it is a doubly hard message for Christian women:
Give it until the very end, until you have nothing left. And then your reward will come.
How readily women hear that message! How easily we believe these words. Give all. Don’t question. Don’t be angry. Don’t doubt that your reward will be on some distant horizon….
The parable of the Good Samaritan came to my mind, but with a new lesson, one particularly for women.
…a Samaritan, as she journeyed, came to where he was, and when she saw him, she had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine, then she set him on her own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day she took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay when I come back.” (from Luke 10:33-35 KJV)
She left. She left! The woman tended to his wounds, brought him to a safe place, took care of him, and paid his way. And then she left.
It sounds almost sinful when we replace the “he” with “she.” You mean she didn’t stay long enough to be sure that he had a job or a home? What woman would leave so quickly? Yet the parable tells us that the woman had compassion when she saw the the man. The lesson is that she also had compassion for herself. She knew her limits.
(A very big thank you to J. K. Gayle for pointing me toward this fabulous book.)
I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this. I know I need to take care better care of myself. But it’s something that does not come natural to me. And I know a lot of that is due to the religion I grew up with. Like Peggy pointed out I grew up hearing women being told our job was to love, serve, and give and give and give. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what we should do. It seemed to apply more to women than it did to men. In fact if you read down the comments of the post Katie left her comment on, you’ll see a whole bunch of Christian women who have trouble taking care of themselves and not feeling guilty about it. It’s both cultural and religious.
That gets me thinking may be women need to do something other than self-denial for Lent. We do self-denial all year. May be our Lenten discipline is taking care of ourselves and not feeling guilty about it. Think on that: Six weeks of giving yourself permission to take care of yourself and (gasp!) may be even self-indulge without feeling guilty for your Lenten discipline. And for most women–not allowing ourselves to feel guilty would be a discipline.
What if next year’s Lenten discipline was adding what you need to your life instead of more self-denial. What if it was more resting and less going. More feeding yourself and less being everyone’s maid.
How would your relationship with Godde change if you took 40 days to love yourself before you loved your neighbor (or your family)? After all that is the second greatest command: Love your neighbor AS you love yourself. Would you have any neighbors if you loved them like you loved you? What if women took on the second greatest commandment as our Lenten discipline next year? What would our relationship with Godde look like at the end? What would our world look like at the end?
Chicago Grace Episcopal Church will be having two Ash Wednesday services including imposition of ashes on Wednesday, February 17. The first service is at 12:15–1:15 p.m. The second service is 6:00–7:00 p.m. with a soup and bread supper following the liturgy. All are welcome to come. I will be attending the service in the evening. Our church is on Printer’s Row, 637 S. Dearborn, right next door to Kasey’s Tavern, and our sanctuary is on the second floor.
Tonight we say good-bye to the alleluias. This hymn from The Saint Helena Breviary helps us to tuck them away until Easter.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Am I the only one procrastinating on choosing a Lenten discipline? To be honest, I’ve been procrastinating on writing this article most of the day. I tweeted that I was going to write this blog post around 11:30 this morning, and I’m just now starting it at almost 6:00 p.m. I figured I wasn’t the only one dragging my feet on choosing something to do or give up for Lent, so here are a few of things I’ve thought of.
Lectio Divina means divine reading. It is a slow meditative reading of a passage of the Bible or a spiritual book. There are three movements of lectio divina: meditation (meditatio), prayer (oratio), and contemplation (contemplatio).
Meditation/meditatio: Read the passage three times out loud, slowly. The first time simply read through. The second time be aware of any words that pop out at you. The third time read until you reach the place that spoke to you on the second reading. Ask yourself: Why does this stand out? What is it saying to me? Why is the Spirit bringing this to my attention? Mull it over.
Prayer/oratio: Take whatever you find to Godde in prayer. Whether it’s gratitude, sorrow, joy, or repentance, pray about what the passage has said to you, and your response to it.
Contemplation/contemplatio: Choose a word from your reading or prayer that best expresses your experience during meditation and prayer. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Spend a few minutes in silence, listening to Godde. If your mind wanders silently say the word you chose.
If you want, journal your lectio experience.
Online resource: Garden of Grace
The Daily Examen
The Daily Examen is a thoughtful look at the day to see how we saw and responded to Godde’s grace through what we did, our responses to the people we met though the day, and our emotions. IgnatianSpiritality.com says
The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern [God’s] direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.
Here is one way of practicing the Daily Examen from Ignatian Sprituality:
The Daily Office is praying through the day. Prayers are said in the Morning, at Noon, in the Evening, and at Night (before bed). In the longer offices of Morning and Evening Prayer two or three psalms are said or chanted, one or two passages of Scripture are read, then there is time for prayers. In the shorter offices of Noon and Night (or Compline) a short psalm or a portion of a psalm is read or chanted and two or three verses of Scripture are read before prayers.
Hospitality is one of the bedrocks of Christianity. Jesus liked to eat with people (especially people he wasn’t supposed to eat with) a lot. Jesus instituted Communion during the family meal and celebration of Passover. Early Christians gathered together to eat and share their resources with one another. Early in our history we started feeding people who couldn’t feed themselves. One of the most basic practices of Christians is feeding each other and feeding other people. I know, I know, a lot of people fast or give up a certain food group for Lent, but giving up food has never been a spiritual discipline for me. Probably because I grew up with the skinnier-is-better and the “Diet! Diet! Diet!” culture, I just cannot consider giving up food to be a spiritual discipline (also my birthday always falls during Lent, and I’m eating my meat and cake!). If fasting is your thing, then go for it. However, I do make a suggestion: put aside the money you saved not buying sweets, pop, or meat, and at the end of Lent, give the money to a food pantry or homeless shelter. This is a personal preference: I much prefer to add something than just give up something for Lent.
Back to hospitality and food. If, like me, you like to feed people and feel it’s an important part of your spirituality here are two ways to practice hospitality during Lent:
Invite friends and family over for meals at your home. Decide how many times you want to provide hospitality during Lent. Then start meal planning and inviting.
Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food pantry to help feed the hungry people in your community. Provide hospitality to those who need it the most.
I hope this helps you in deciding a discipline to bring you closer to Godde during Lent. Do you have anything to add to the list? What are thinking of giving up or adding for Lent? I’m leaning toward Lectio Divina myself. It’s been a long time since I practiced it, and it has always been one of my favorites.