Kairos: Palm Sunday Sermon

This is a sermon I prepared for Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor this morning on Matthew 21:1-11. The video above is from Facebook Live. If you have any challenges accessing the video in this post, feel free to go here.

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

As we begin to look at the stories of Holy Week, we begin with a moment of preparation. Jesus is making preparations. He’s asking his disciples to do that with him. He is moving toward something that is very intentional.

Even though it’s intentional, the directions seem a bit cryptic, but there is trust here. “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately, you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.” And more trust: “If anyone says anything to you, just say this. ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”

So there is a sense that these people were likely known to Jesus, and that they would understand what that means, or at least be open to it, or trust that something important was about to happen.

There was preparation.
There was intention.

And the author of the Gospel According to Matthew also seems to think about preparation and to make connections regularly with the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible.

And so, he says that this all took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Zechariah,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went on to do what Jesus had asked them to do, perhaps not understanding what was about to take place, and certainly not understanding fully the reality that Jesus was about to enter.

He was going into Jerusalem. He was processing straight into threat and likely death. In fact, he had predicted this with his disciples, and they were not prepared to hear it. And in this intriguing moment, where he’s processing straight into danger, into trauma, even into death, and… they all enact what is most true. They have joy, and they recognize that they are participating in some kind of kingdom even if they don’t understand it. The people around them certainly did not understand that the figurehead of the kingdom they imagined would soon process straight into these painful things, but they recognized something, and they shouted,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

There was joy as they laid down branches from the trees and spread them along the road. They had great anticipation for Jesus, some having followed him, some having seen and heard the things he was doing. They desired the joy of something different, and they longed from liberation from their oppressors — the Roman Empire that was occupying the land.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the story says that the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” Some did not know, but he had made himself visible. He had made himself noticeable. Some then answer the question, saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” He was from Nazareth, a place not highly regarded. From there, comes who creates cheers, and hope, and joy, but also turmoil…

He knew he was processing into danger, eyed suspiciously by the Romans, and he did it anyway.

When I think about this procession they made together, honoring Jesus and this kingdom, I think about how joyful it was, but I also think about how political it was.

“Hosanna!” they cried. Hosanna – meaning ‘Save us.’ 

“Hosanna to the Son of David,” — the marker, figurehead, and name of the ancient Kingdom, the Kingdom of David. To anyone, this would have appeared to be an insurrection. Under the occupation of the Roman Empire, this procession was definitely making claims of a new kingdom, an alternative kingdom, and a new order to things.

And people connected it to Biblical prophesy. He descended from the Mount of Olives, a place that people certainly associated with that prophesy — a location where God’s redemption of Israel would be visible.

And now, they made it visible.

And it was a revealing procession. It was meant to be a revelation of sorts. It was an unveiling and an uncovering of what is ultimately true, a proclamation of the central truth of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is publicly revealed to be the one Matthew claims him to be – the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Coming One. This was certainly going to get attention.

And it was an ironic procession. Jesus knew what he was processing into. I wonder… was there some kind of pain inside the joy? Inside him? Or did that fade for a moment? We don’t know, but even in face of irony, this moment revealed some kind of ultimate joy.

In the Greek New Testament, there are two words for time. One word is chronos, which talks about linear time — days, weeks, months, years, and decades in the same ways we tend to measure time. But there’s also another word for time — kairos. This is a time of ultimate fulfillment, when something that is most true and most ultimate breaks into the present moment.

I like to imagine that this was true here. When we think about chronos, Jesus was walking straight into the most traumatic week of his life — the end of his life. But when we think about kairos, perhaps there was true joy in this present moment of a procession, revealing a kingdom with all the values Jesus had already lived in his life. This procession revealed the values he had ushered in with his disciples. It revealed what is most true, most fulfilled, most ultimate. Kairos. Kairos broke into a present moment.

Right now, we are entering Holy Week. We are also all experiencing a collective trauma in this time of the coronavirus. And I think we can name how painful it is, how scary it is, how unpredictable it feels.

And I wonder if we were to join this procession today, are there ways in which kairos — what is most fulfilling, most ultimate, and most true — could break into our world, into our week, into our present moment right now, into how we’re feeling now, into this situation in which we are living? Could we hope for that?

Like the disciples of Jesus, we are processing into something we would never desire. Can we live the values of the Kingdom of God? Can we be a Kindom of God that practices these values? Love for the so-called least? Care for the vulnerable? Proclamation of hope to the people? Love no matter what? Love that knows the path its on, even if that path is a painful road, and love anyway?

And perhaps centuries and millennia removed in chronos from this moment, knowing the rest of the story, can we trust that resurrection might even be able to find us there. Is that possible? Can we hope that for each other, even if we can’t quite imagine it?

If so, by what values will we live? How can we live kairos in this procession? How can we live kairos in this present moment? How can we live kairos in the days ahead?

Renee Roederer

You Are Not Alone: Combating Social Isolation

Earlier this week, I was grateful to have the occasion to moderate a discussion on behalf of the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan, entitled, “You Are Not Alone: Combating Social Isolation.” This discussion was a conference call, and it was was recorded, so it felt a bit like making a podcast but with others listening in and participating live.

On this call, I interviewed four people who have experiences living with epilepsy, and we discussed tips for addressing social isolation, a topic which is quite suddenly relevant for us all.

I was so touched with how this turned out, and I’d love to share it with you. It was meaningful for me to share advice on this topic from my own experiences and reflections too.

This recording is…

1) an excellent introduction to epilepsy and the social barriers that many face,
2) a topic remarkably relevant to everyone right now, and
3)  an occasion to express pride and gratitude in shared-identity and community-belonging.

It would mean a lot to me if you had a listen.

I’m embedding the YouTube recording of this call. If you have any trouble accessing it in my post, you can also go to this link. There are also closed captions available if you choose that option.

Thanks, all, and I’m thinking of you too in this wild time of social isolation.

Take good care.
Renee Roederer

Get Curious

idea

Image Description: A thought bubble with a lightbulb inside. Public domain image.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Get curious.

Ask yourself a new question. Go down a rabbit trail of learning. Explore something novel. Get to know someone. Delight in something unknown. Try something new.

Every time we explore new things, we are creating new chemical reactions in our brains. Our neurons fire, and our brains develop new patterns and associations. This is invigorating and stimulating. When we have interest and feel delight, we ease stress.

Curiosity is also a pathway to empathy. It helps us imagine the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others. It also helps us have empathy for ourselves: Why do I think these thoughts, feel these feelings, and do things this way? Both kinds of curiosity are helpful during times of trauma and personal difficulty.

So let’s get curious.

And I’d love to hear from you: What are you learning or exploring these days?

Renee Roederer

I want to thank three people (thank you!) who became patrons of my work through Patreon in March. If you’d like to support my writing through Patreon, that helps me quite a bit. And if you have interest in giving a one-time gift, you can do so here.

Thinking of you as well as we all muddle through the big health needs and economic needs of these days. Support to you too!

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

 

Sit and Smile

IMG_7461

Image Description: The blue and white cover of the book, Being Peace. Under the title, it reads “Thich Nhat Hanh,” naming the author of the book. The cover also says, “Introduction by Jack Kornfield.” At the top right is a quote that reads, “Being Peace is distilled wisdom, the language simple and clear. This book is for everyone. — Fellowship Magazine.” There are also images of two leaves falling to the ground.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Sit and smile.

Meditation is calming for the body. When we get quiet, sit still, notice our breathing, and clear our thoughts — or often more accurately, notice our thoughts as they come and go — we ease our nervous systems. We activate the calming mechanisms of the parasympathetic nervous system, and our fight, flight, freeze, and fawn reactions slow down and fade for a while.

We can also practice smiling.

I’m certainly not a person who tells others, “You should smile!” (Women hear this all the time, and it’s irritating. We also know that people are feeling grief, anxiety, and stress). But when we sit and smile, breathing in and out, we can shift some of the feelings in our body.

Here’s what Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh shares in his book, Being Peace:

“I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.

“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

” ‘Breathing in, I calm my body.’ This line is like drinking a glass of ice water-you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.

” ‘Breathing out, I smile.’ You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.

” ‘Dwelling in the present moment.’ While I sit here, I don’t think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here, and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend be alive in the future, not now. We say, ‘Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will be really alive.’ When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, ‘I have to wait until I have a job in order to be really alive.’ And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. Therefore the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.

” ‘I know this is a wonderful moment.’ This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most wonderful task. ‘Calming, Smiling, Present moment, Wonderful moment.’ I hope you will try it.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, pages 15-16

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

Move Your Body (Side By Side)

brain-hemispheres

Image Description: A graphic of a brain viewed from above. At the top of the image, it says “Left Hemisphere” and “Right Hemisphere.”

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Move your body side by side.

Bilateral stimulation is a big form of stress release for the body. Swing your arms. Left side, right side in a repetitive way. Take a walk. Left side, right side in a repetitive way. Use your hands to tap on your chest or your legs. Left side, right side in a repetitive way. With headphones, listen to bilateral stimulation music on Youtube. Left side, right side in a repetitive way.

Bilateral stimulation is soothing. Even more significant, it can help the brain store memories in new, helpful ways. (More about that in a moment).

We are living a time of collective trauma, and in the midst of this, we can experience emotional flooding. We can have big, internal reactions of anxiety, irritability, restlessness, hyper-vigilance, and trouble sleeping. These physical feelings give us the sensation that we are continuously on guard, waiting for something challenging but unknown to happen. With all of these, our nervous systems are in a state called hyperarousal. Or, in emotional flooding, we can sense our emotions going flat or numb. We might sleep more, struggle to get out of the bed in the morning, have depressive symptoms, feel continuously fatigued, or get to a place of dissociation where we lose contact with our feelings — becoming disconnected from the moment, ourselves, or our typical lives. With all of these, our nervous systems are in a state called hypoarousal.

We might experience one of these more than the other, or we might bounce back and forth between hyperarousal (top of the next image) and hypoarousal (bottom of the next image). This can be jolting. If you’re experiencing any of these things, please know that they make complete sense given what we’re experiencing collectively, and you’re not alone. We can be very gentle and kind with ourselves in the midst of these things.

Somatic-Experiencing
(Levine, Ogden, Siegel)

In the midst of present, collective trauma, older traumas from our lives might resurface too, either in our thinking memories or in physical reactions in our bodies. We might not be aware that this is happening because the experience can be one of additional hyperarousal and hypoarousal without necessarily being one of thinking and recollection. We need to show ourselves gentleness and kindness here too.

Bilateral stimulation can be helpful.

When we experience trauma, individually or collectively, the memories of that trauma can be split in our brains. The thinking, recollection, logical memory of the event is stored in left brain, while the emotional memory of the event is stored in the right brain. And if these are not reprocessed physically (building brain connections between the thinking memory and the emotional memory) these can keep us feeling stuck. Hyperarousal is traumatic stress stuck “on” and hypoarousal is traumatic stress stuck “off.” In the midst of these, bilateral stimulation is soothing (try it!). And it can also help move these various forms of memory around in our brain so that they are no longer stuck.

One extremely powerful and effective form of bilateral stimulation is a form of therapy called EMDR. (Check out this article: The Best Drug I’ve Ever Taken Wasn’t Even a Drug. It was EMDR Therapy) EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. When we move our eyes back and forth side to side, or do other forms of bilateral stimulation, we can create a physical state that is something like our REM cycles of sleep. With a therapist, we can use these forms of bilateral stimulation to reprocess traumatic memories, shifting how they are stored physically in our brains and bodies. This helps us shift the ways we are stuck in post-traumatic states of hyperarousal and hypoarousal.

It’s amazing that this stuff works!

So I recommend doing EMDR with a therapist, and this can be done for large traumas and for smaller forms of stress too.

But you can try some forms of bilateral stimulation at home as well. Here’s one form of bilateral stimulation that I learned from Andrea Thomas, one of my colleagues. It’s called the Butterfly Hug.

  1. Cross your arms across your body in a self-hug.
  2. Allow your thumbs to be the “body” of the butterfly. Your other fingers are the “wings.”
  3. Tap your fingers — the wings — on your arms, left side, right side in a repetitive way.

This can be soothing. While you try this, tell yourself messages that are loving, kind, and gentle. Your brain and body are processing these messages at a deep, physical level. Bilateral stimulation makes those connections deeper.

What a great life hack.

Renee Roederer

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

Give Yourself a Hug

heart hug

Image Description: A red cartoon heart with white arms gives a self-hug.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Give yourself a hug.

Sure, you may feel silly, but try to put that away for a few reasons: 1) It’s good to give yourself self-compassion, 2) no one is watching, and most importantly, 3) this has great health benefits because it releases stress.

When we hug, our brains reduce chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine (big, feel good chemicals) and you know what? While it’s certainly great to hug another person, our brains don’t fully know the difference between an other-people hug and a self-hug, especially if we place good intentions of self care into that hug. Some are sheltering-in-place alone, and this is genuinely helpful.

Hugs also stimulate the vagus nerve. Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (it calms our fight or flight responses). The vagus nerve is a special hack to know about, because it plays a big role in that system. When we hug, we stimulate pressure points in our skin called pacinian corpuscles, and these receptors fire signals to the vagus nerve. Among other things, the vagus nerve plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Hugs, including self-hugs, activate this system and frequently, lower blood pressure.

So give yourself a hug. Give it a try!

Renee Roederer

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle

Listen to the Birds

bird

Image Description: A perched, baby robin.

A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:

Listen to bird songs.

A recording will definitely do, but if you can listen to the real birds outside chirping away, even better. Bird songs calm our nervous systems.

Fun Facts: The sounds of birds are lovely, and they remind us of spring (great things). But they’re also calming for evolutionary reasons too. When our early human ancestors heard birds chirping and singing in the trees, that meant there probably weren’t any predators around. So everyone could be more calm and less on guard.

And our bodies remember this. So listen away!

Bird songs, along with other forms of calm, activate our parasympathetic nervous systems. And in a time of collective trauma, this is what we need. Our autonomic nervous systems have a 1) sympathetic nervous system which ramps up our ‘fight or flight’ responses, and a 2) parasympathetic nervous system which calms them down.

So in times of stress and trauma, we want all the life hacks we can muster to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Bird songs are a good one!

Renee Roederer

* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle