Morning Mercy & Wearing God

Ever since I was little, it has taken everything in me to get out of bed. Luckily for me, as a long standing joke with my family, this is fabulously documented in home videos where, as a 5 year old, I emerged from my bed in zombie-like motion with my hair mashed to one side of my head as my small stature couldn’t contain the disdain I had for being disturbed from my sweet slumber. Apparently it was such a sight that my dad’s recording of it has become a family favorite to watch over the holidays (thanks, Dad). Fortunately, somehow my own reluctance sharpens my view of God’s mercy (because I clearly need an extra boost of mercy-energy to get out bed).

I’m slowly discovering the holiness of mornings. And it might be holier simply because it’s harder. But beyond that, the simple act of getting dressed in the morning has taken on new meaning.

I think if life were to write me a note, it would echo the words of Maya Angelou when she says “your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head.” It’s an act of wearing, of putting on a version of self that is my better self because it’s an image of Jesus.

This symbolism of wearing God has been a source of deep significance for me. It comes in part from Lauren Winner’s book, Wearing God, that examines various ways of imagining God that are often over-looked in scriptures, including imagining God as clothing.

When I think about wearing God, I think about a conscious act of putting on material that is an expression of who I am. As the author puts it, it forms our sense of self and how we’re perceived by others. It’s an extension of my identity and is at once personal and communicative. It reminds me of the nearness of God, of his presence in life. It reminds me to wear the things of God as part of my very being – his love, truth, patience, justice.

To put a crown on my head, one that was bought and paid for is painfully humbling, but also beautifully liberating. Jesus and the things of Jesus are to become a part of who I am. Not in a self-absorbing, symbol status kind of way, but rather through the conscious act of putting on clothes and being clothed. I draw a keen awareness of Jesus from this idea. The physicality of this symbolism and the daily routine of waking in the morning and trying to remember that God’s mercies are new brings purpose for me and informs how I might interact with the world.

Just this morning at church, the speaker discussed how choosing to follow Jesus is not a one-time decision, but a conscious daily one. Like a person who is recovering from addiction, they must choose a better way of life, a better way of being, each day. Zora Neale Hurston says that “there are years that ask questions and years that answer,” but I’ve found the same to be true amidst my days, weeks, and months. And in the swirling of questions and answers, and in the mix of doubt and clarity, I might daily practice choosing to be dressed in what I know to be true of Jesus.

So even when I wake up bleary-eyed and hair awry, or when I’m overwhelmed by life and am reluctant to take on a new day, somehow the mundane of getting dressed in the morning might become something holy. In doing so, I’m reminded of God’s presence and nearness and the good things of God, so that it might seep into my bones, my very being.

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On Banana Muffins and the Meaning of Life

A friend and I recently had a conversation about what things in life bring us joy. The question echoes an excerpt from a book I’d recently read, issuing a question with much weight: what is saving your life right now?

This conversation was on the heels of a Friday, “what is life” conversation at the pub (over wine and nachos, of course). More specifically, we talked about our desire for our weekends to be shaped by meaning. It’s something that’s framed several conversations for me this week, several marked by the sharing of stories.

What made me realize the beauty of asking this question from a place of both pain and hope was over banana chocolate espresso muffins. Muffins accompanied by reading poems aloud with three other friends, a lovely happenstance that occurred after first reading one by Wendell Berry. An impromptu performance of speaking aloud words evoking meaning and grace by poets who wrestle with the same questions and more.

The night before, over tortilla soup, two coworkers and I discussed the grace and pain evident in sharing difficult stories, ones framed by both tragedy and resilience. One woman we recently met with shared about the rich relationships in her life – her children, grandchildren, and her elderly mother, whom she visits every day. She also shared about her daughter and son’s illnesses and the challenges of being able to remain consistent at work when she needed to stay home with them, a reality that impacted her ability to work full-time. She gives and gives and gives, even still. She remained unmoved in her belief that she is marked by grace. She would say cheerfully, unreservedly, “that’s just me.”

This fierce determination reminds me of Maya Angelou and her revered grandmother in I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a literary classic about her own story that I began reading this weekend. Her grandmother, after being imitated cruelly by white children in her store, sings aloud “Glory, glory hallelujah, when I lay my burden down.” A lesson in grace, dignity in the face of hate and mockery; hate and mockery that was a result of a larger and wider injustice, a sin that remains unequivocally evident today. And yet, the power of their taunting was overcome by her dignity. Even still, grace.

At a conference this weekend, I gathered with other women to discuss the topic of faith and to engage in the hard conversation of how we can live as if we truly believe God is real. One of the speakers described faith as a process and a discipline. And so I’m beginning to reconcile faith as not so much something to be had, something to own or disown, but rather a process.

Like the moon, it waxes and wanes, but it’s suspended in perfect space and perfect light. Not because of my own doing, but because He who holds it sustains it. My own view of it is subjective – from where I’m standing here on earth. But I can point to it and say it’s there, even if it looks different during the night than during the day. And others can point to it as well, and describe it in different terms – based on their own perception and experience.

So, maybe what’s saving my life right now—banana muffins.

Just kidding. At least not literally, of course (granted, they were the best banana muffins I’ve had).

Rather, I mean the safe spaces where conversations around meaning can be had. Where I can be surrounded by people who wrestle with doubt and meaning, and by people who express faith and resilience in ways I couldn’t imagine on my own. And it’s often through the sharing of stories and experiences – both by the people in our lives right now and the great poets and writers who’ve wrestled with these thoughts before us – that bring to light our own moons, waxing and waning and still marked by grace, unreserved grace.

One of my favorite authors says, “Since then, I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.”

There is real joy in that for me.

Thoughts on the New Year

As much as I’m grateful for new seasons in life, the clichés accompanied with the new year ironically color it the “same old same old” for me. There are the new-year-resolution cynics, and I just may identify as one. But then again, maybe leaning into the cynicism comforts me in my own anxiety for the new year. Somehow poking fun at the clichés and the resolved “resolution-ists” allows me to feel better about my own uncertainties, doubts, and fears. It justifies my lack of resolution-making, right?

And then I remember that the Lord has brought me this far. And that’s worth celebrating, and that’s worth bringing with me into 2015.

Blogger and writer Sarah Bessey recently wrote a piece about chosing and centering on a word or theme for the year. I like this concept even more than setting resolutions. Hers is to “hold fast,” alluding to Hebrews 10:23:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. ~ Hebrews 10:23 NKJV

She writes, This is my year to hold fast to that confession of our hope because he is faithful. And that is a truth I have learned down to my bones over the years. He is faithful. There is joy in that truth for me, real joy, not resignation and plodding. Life and life more abundant hides in our life as it stands.”

Holding fast to his faithfulness in the everydayness of life reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor who often writes about finding the sacredness in life – that there is no division of sacred and secular, but rather, God is present in all things. We are invited to identify these altars in the world, shine a light on that holiness, and to be changed by it.

She also speaks of holy ignorance and of the difference between faith and certainty. You can at once trust in God and question everything you’ve been taught about him. She remarks that her faith is akin to a spiritual map, one with both a center and an edge. At the center is the Church and all its traditions, tenets, and practices. Take a step outside the center, and you experience the wilderness; a wilderness where one encounters God as a different kind of holy, where pilgrims brave long, arduous journeys of doubt and uncertainty to find a holiness that supersedes our theological discussions and comfortable church life. However, we need both the center and the edge in our lives as each complements the other – one without the other is not a complete map.

Frederick Buechner’s artistic writing is a special kind of holy for my soul. It’s the kind that spans both the center and the edge of the map. You don’t find traditional Sunday school answers and clichés in his sermons and writing. Instead, you find allegory and truth written so divinely, so poetically that you have to pause to grasp the holiness he identifies. He speaks of the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth as encountering the greatest glory they’d ever known. He likens it to staring out at the sky, the pasture, without really seeing what you’re looking at – because of distraction, toiling, resignation. But when they realize the glory before them, they’re overcome by it, changed by it. Suddenly, everything around them is full of glory – the mud, sky, birds, air. Brightness was everywhere.

Identifying these altars then begs the questions of how I’ll respond to that holiness. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, not only does Scrooge emerge a redeemed man, he embodies the theme of encountering glory and responds by desiring to right social injustices. He witnesses joy, suffering, and community with the aid of the three Christmas spirits, and his world is opened before him. This theme is aptly summed up by his nephew’s words: Christmas is a time where we recognize that all of us, the rich and poor alike, “are fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” Encountering holiness illuminates our common humanity, our common hope and therefore ushers us into a response of compassion and justice.

It is with this hope I enter into the new year: that holiness is right where I am sitting, that it is right around the corner; that his faithfulness reaches beyond the center to the edge of the map; that he brings light to our world, but shows us that he abides in our darkness, too – where he is real, present, and working.

So, for 2015, I am “holding fast” to his faithfulness because He is present in the light and dark; at the center and edge; in faith and doubt. As small as my understanding is of it, that’s everyday holiness.