Stripping off the heat of the day,
I lower my body to the mat upon the floor.
Cooling night breeze brushes against skin,
body hair tingles with each gust of dark air.
But the jaw refuses,
holding tight to the day’s tension.
Not yet cool but no longer hot,
I partially drape my body with the sheet,
and banish canine to the foot.
But the jaw denies release,
holding word and worry tight.
Systematically moving from toes and heel to ankle and calf,
my mind pauses in awareness of each muscle.
Deep within, my ever-present right hip threatens,
to push ahead in line as each part of my physicality,
has its turn at notice by my meditative mind.
Reaching my belly, my mind circles in compassion around,
tingling epidermis and twinges of nerves beneath,
that remember the knife that opened my belly not so long ago.
My body remembers even when my mind represses.
Jaw, belly, and hip conspire,
to deny the cooling breeze its healing powers.
Until my lungs let out their quivering sigh and my mind lets go of body, consciousness, and finally the day.
“Some people don’t need to rest but I do,” she said. In the rhythm of the conversation, it wasn’t the time to contradict her assumption that some do not need rest. I just nodded, “Yeah, me too.”
The great American myth is that we can accomplish more if we muscle through without rest. The great American sin is failing to take care of ourselves and, in the process, failing to trust God that the world will keep spinning without us. It is an arrogance. It is an idolatry to worship work at the expense of rest and self-care.
Besides our arrogance and failure to trust the divine spirit that flows through creation, when we neglect self-care and regular sabbath we abuse ourselves.
Threaded through the biblical witness from Genesis (e.g.; Gen. 2:3) to Jesus (e.g.; Mark 2:27) is an emphasis on the importance of self-care and rest. Living into the image of God in which all of us are created, we need regular sabbath. Despite the church’s traditional (self-serving?) teaching that sabbath is primarily about going to church, the reality is that most references to sabbath in the Bible are about abstention from work, rest, and self-care.
Created in the image of the divine, maltreating ourselves through overwork is abusing God.
When we forsake physical and emotional rest, we are more likely to mistreat others and break the Golden Rule (Matthew 22:34-40). When we fail to care for ourselves we are less kind, less patient, and, in my case, quicker to become angry and short over minuscule slights. Harming the God in me, harms the God in you.
Without regular sabbath, we cease to be the people we were created to be.
Sometimes, the pre-ordained destination is the only thing that will give me peace. I must reach the end of the trail, the waterfall, the lake, or the top of the mountain to feel a sense of completion.
But not always.
As I begin to wear out, as my motivation and ever-loving oomph dissipates I find a rock. It might be halfway. It might be three-quarters of the way or even nine-tenths of the trek to the anticipated destination.
But when I find my rock, I sit.
“I’ll sit for just a moment,” I tell myself, “and then I’ll get up and go the final distance.” My muscles relax and my breathing slows as I sit, snack on a trail bar, and immerse my spirit in this place.
I breathe in the scents. I drink the tall trees or scrub brush. I reach deep into the earth as my body connects through stump or rock.
And God shows up.
The cooling breeze carries with it words. I become dizzy as the words swirl around my head. Tears or sobs, a smirk of contentment, or a huge grin emerge as the words demand to be written down. Pulling out my ragged journal, I write as fast as I possibly can.
That is the moment I realize that this rock is my destination for today. This is the moment and the place for which my soul aches.
When all the words have run dry, I load up my pack and return to the trailhead, content and satisfied.
When unaccompanied children were arriving at the southern border of the United States, grandmothers’ arms ached to hold and comfort. In my eastern Oregon town we talked about, “What can we do to help?”
When Mike Brown lay dead on a hot summer street for hours, we didn’t talk. It was a foreign land; it was news from the big city back east. Grandmothers’ hearts were protected by ignoring and avoiding.
When burnt convenience stores awakened white grandmothers’ arms, I told my story of growing up near Ferguson. I told my story of my family still nearby. Grandmothers asked, “Is your dad okay?”
Assured my white father was safe, it no longer mattered that Mike Brown had lay dead on a hot city street for hours or that black mothers and fathers sobbed. White grandmothers’ arms crossed in defensiveness and talked about, “What did he do to deserve this?” and “Why are they burning buildings?” while black grandmothers’ arms ached to hold grandbabies.
And so I told my stories of race, identifying my own sins, and our collective white sin of racism. I was dismissed, “You only told one side of the story.” We talked about anything but race.
When Freddie Gray died in police custody, white grandmothers’ arms ached again. We talked about, “something is not right” until we were reminded by power and defensiveness that Mike, Tamir, Trayvon, Eric, Tanisha and so many more before and since were not worthy of due process.
We listened to the voices of power, fear, and sin justify shooting children of God because of skin melanin. We listened to white supremacy, fragility, and privilege as it determined the status quo, the truth, and our white history of subjugation must be hidden at the cost of black body after black body.
It is our turn to confess our sins. It is our turn to learn our history. It is our turn to bear the pain of the truth of what white supremacy, ignorance, and fragility has wrought.
If our arms aren’t aching we aren’t paying attention.
Other Suggested Reading These represent a few of the many articles that I’ve found helpful as I’ve begun accepting my own white culpability and responsibility in responding to our nation’s race problem.
I dance at the party of wildflowers in higher altitude grassy meadows. Perched on craggy ledges, my eyes drink in the meandering blue waters from above. Before the divine pinnacle, I bow my head and receive a blessing at the snow-streaked top of the world.
I choose trails that torture muscles while amplifying my heart rate. Often I question my choices during the first third (or more) of the journey. I whine and plead with myself, “What were you thinking? Can we pleeeease turn around?”
But I don’t turn around. I like being up. I like going up, though you’d never believe it if you could feel my feels on that first part of the journey. Despite my self-complaining, I like going up.
With each step and stumble the angst, hurts, and the grief of living are revealed and faced preparing me for the mountaintop.
“I looked it up. It’s true,” she said.
“No,” I said sticking to my guns.
“Um, yes dear. Mt. Adams IS taller than Mt. Hood.”
“Nope,” I said, “Mt. Hood is the best, the tallest of all mountains!”
In my unbending insistence, I was a five-year-old defending my dad as the strongest and smartest. (He is, by the way.) That’s the trouble with dogma; it often ignores facts. Though institutional religion is the quintessential dogmatist, it is far from alone. The laying down of ideas as beyond reproach is common among human beings.
My mother-in-law even once criticized the color we painted our house because, she pronounced, “houses are white with black shutters.” There was no room in her thinking for cheerful yellow.
Partisan politics, brand loyalty, American exceptionalism, the importance of eating locally, the definition of marriage, the best mountain, paint color, and even atheism can become dogmatic. Anything from which we find identity or meaning can become dogmatic. All it takes is a little passion and a dash of inflexibility sautéed over a bed of unquestioning spirit to cook up dogma. Spiced with fear or ignorance and the dish becomes poisonous.
Since the deadly dogma that led to the murder of nine African American men and women at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I’ve been reflecting upon my theology and found it wanting.
Theology, or how we understand and experience the divine mystery, hints at the nature of the one I call God. Though it seeks to explain the divine nature, my personal theology reflects as much or more about my nature than that of God. Though useful, any theology has its limitations when faced with the mysterium tremendum (literally, tremendous mystery).
I lean toward a process understanding of the inexplicable One. In Process Theology, God allows evil in the world because God cannot prevent it. In simplistic terms, the killing of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons Sr., Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson is the result of human free will.
The coercive God of most theologies could have prevented the shooter from his deadly action, leaving us with the question, “why?” In the Process view, God is non-coercive and was incapable of directly preventing the killings. God seeks to lure, beckon, or encourage each of us toward the most loving action in each moment. Evil happens when we make choices contrary to God’s desired (loving) action for us.
In the case of Charleston, we collectively allow racism to fester. Instead of heeding the luring spirit to eradicate this American sin, we make other choices. Within this context, relationships influence each of us but it never means the individual perpetrator is faultless. Given his free will, the shooter ignored God repeatedly. The final and deadly action was the result of utter disregard for the non-coercive God’s preferred action. He instead chose evil.
So, what do I find wanting about my theology following the heinous crime at Emanuel AME Church? The non-coercive nature of the divine seems to explain why God allows evil to exist. Isn’t that enough?
No. What I find lacking in my theology is an attribute which I perceive to be in God’s nature: passion. My pedantic explanation of how a young man could sit in Bible Study with nine men and women and then shoot them is too-tidy, too-easy, and too-sterile. Like my ancient forebears in the faith, I perceive God as passionate.
“The Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord the God of Israel”. 1 Kings 11:9 REB
I imagine God raging, not only at the shooter but at those of us who are white. For too long, we have allowed the poisonous dogma of white supremacy and privilege to fester. Having constricted racism with color blindness, we are culpable.
At worst our white failure to confront our personal and collective roles in the scourge of racism caused the killing of the nine women and men of Emanuel AME Church. At best, our failure to question the dogma in which we were raised sanctioned not only killing the nine at Bible study but the countless other people of color who are killed daily in our nation.
LORD of Justice, Your anger is justified. We have been ignorant and indifferent to the lives of others. Clinging to personal comfort and the dogma of whiteness, we’ve failed to listen and learn and grow. Confronted with the sin of white supremacy, we explain it away.
Help us to see the road ahead. Taking responsibility for our personal and collective sin, may we listen, follow, and move to act in ways that bring forth justice for our sisters and brothers who have suffered at our expense for too many generations.