Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Episode Nine: Embodiment

I'm not sure why it happens--but there are seasons in my life when my soul is porous, my heart available, and every conversation, every song, every exchange, seeps through my skin and into my bones.

During these seasons, I'm poised to hear poetry and truly take-in its significance (rather than simply nod and pretend I understand it as I usually do). In these open and vulnerable days, I really listen to music--hearing the complexity of the notes, noticing the nuances of the lyrics, feeling its internal reverberations in my cells.

Yes, every once in awhile it feels as though I am literally inhaling life and memories and love into my being.

I'm not sure why these seasons of embodied joy are often fleeting though I imagine stress and (overly glorified) busyness are quick to out-maneuver them most of the time.  But, in the rare moments when I am inhabiting a space of radical receptivity to the world around me, when I am my "best self," it is a time of soaking it all in and storing it all up, a series of moments when I feel as though the goodness and beauty of this life we lead becomes startlingly clear. For a few seconds I am lucky enough to notice, pick some of the beauty up, and take it in as a part of myself.

The past few weeks have been such a season.  

I've stored up the thousands of hugs and life-updates I exchanged with those who make up my denominational home in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at our General Assembly just a few weeks ago. In the long winter months to come, when isolation and loneliness knock at the door from time to time, it is my hope that one of these conversations will emerge from my full, full heart and I will be comforted and connected yet again.

I've stashed away unexpected, deeply meaningful, early morning and late night chats with old and new friends, beloved mentors, and random passers-by during my time in Nashville for The Young Clergy Women Project conference. Whether it was a hug in front of the Vanderbilt dumpsters from Maxine (one of the janitorial staff I was privileged enough to walk along side during the living wage campaign) or an unexpected theological debate about the meaning of "justice," hashed out with a then-stranger, now-friend, on the well-worn couches of the Disciples Divinity House: these words, hugs, and moments of meaning-making are packed deep within my soul, ready to go with me through the stress and chaos of the coming semesters.

My hand closed tightly around a re-reading of Wendell Berry's The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, my heart stuffed to the brim with new music, my belly full of new jokes and moments of laughing so hard it hurts, I am thankful for the embodiment of joy, the overwhelming sense of community, the beauty of this life. I am thankful for seasons of radical receptivity and unbounded, embodied, goodness. Thanks be to God.
Spirit by Linda Allen-submitted to the Kress Project of the Georgia Museum of Art

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Episode Seven: Blessing (roadkill and other major life transitions)

I hate roadkill. Can't stand it. There I am, driving down a lovely, scenic stretch of road (picture it: fall foliage, a winding blacktop, the perfect road-trip song on the radio) when, out of nowhere, there it is: a dead animal on the side of the road.

My "driver's high" is immediately gone and I'm sad for the rest of my trip.  I begin to imagine a whole life for the now dead animal that I just saw on the side of the road.  Maybe she was a mama deer and there are three baby deers cold, hungry and alone at this very moment, with tiny deer tears streaming down their little deer cheeks.  Maybe it was a well loved possum that will certainly be missed by the whole possum get the picture.  Roadkill hurts my heart and it brings me down.

Now that I drive 60 miles round trip every day to work and back, I had to come up with a coping strategy because, as you might imagine, I see a lot of roadkill. A lot. It was time to get a grip. If I let my overly sensitive soul get caught up in the tragedy of each animal life lost, I'd never have time to do anything else.  And so, at my partner Sarah's suggestion, I turned toward ritual.

Now, when I see a dead animal on the side of the road--rather than imagine that animal's sad and desolate animal family and slowly lose myself in mournful, existential thoughts about life and love and death, I instead offer a blessing over the animal's life.  With each possum, cat, dog, squirrel or deer I see, I say something along the lines of "God, I offer this animal's life up to you, witnessing that it is no longer here, and marking the end of its life.  Its death did not go unnoticed. Today, I notice it. I bless it. I offer it up to you."

You know what y'all?  It works.

In the act of blessing, in the act of naming and claiming the twinges of sadness I feel at the sight of a dead animal on the side of the road, in the act of holding it up before God and saying "yep, here it is," I find a bit of release.  This ritual of mine, the witnessing of this animal's life, the blessing of its passing, the offering of it up to God, it doesn't change anything.  It doesn't "fix" anything.  The animal is still, after all, definitely dead.  It doesn't have any tangible "effect" on this life what-so-ever.

But, in this act of blessing, of witnessing, of letting go, I am changed.

I am changed.

So here's my thinking--if it works with the roadkill, why not the rest of life?

I'm wondering if there might be something powerful in acknowledging our utter lack of control to change or alter patterns of life, loss, love and death.  My guess is that perhaps in the witnessing and the blessing of the passings in our own lives, both the little and large occurrences and situations beyond our control that tug and pull and weigh on our hearts, perhaps there just might be something sacred.  In throwing our hands up, acknowledging our helplessness, and offering it to God, in saying "yep, here it is," we just might meet the divine and somehow be changed in the encounter.

I don't really have anything deep or profound to write here...just the observation that the act of blessing roadkill seems to have changed my life. Yep, that's right.

So here's to blessing it all--the good, the bad, the ugly--offering it up to God (whatever it is), letting it go (as best we can), and then driving on by.