My good friend wrote this poem, and with her permission, I’d like to share it with you.
Stop hiding Stop pretending Stop fearing Their response Stop waiting For the perfect time Yet Led by the Holy Speak It’s time Love words Of freedom Into the dark That those in shadow Can enter the light Oh lamp-carriers Stars in the night You were not lit To hide the light
Over the years, I’ve had many animal neighbors in the backyard, including a number of groundhogs. One of my favorites was a groundhog named Son of Spinach (at least, that was his name to me). Sadly, he died a few years ago. He was quite a character.
He didn’t show up every day, but he had a den nearby, so from time to time, he would show up in the backyard. And to say something both true and alliterative, Son of Spinach was so overly skittish. At the smallest noise, he would run away to hide, sometimes under the deck. This quality felt like an endearing, funny, sad combo.
Occasionally in the mornings, Son of Spinach would feast on the backyard grass quite out-in-the-open. And if I made the slightest sound, like unlocking the screen door, he ran for cover under the deck. I found myself wondering, how long will he stay down there? How much recoup time is necessary for the popping sound of a lock? How long will it be before he feels safe again?
Then, sometimes, I’d think of us – that is, we humans. We hide and recoup too. Sometimes, we need alone time or sustained opportunities for self and community care.
But other times, we just doubt ourselves.
When it comes to the second, I hope we know there’s a whole out-in-the-open living opportunity for us.
There’s a plant in the Sahara Desert that can regenerate itself long after it has died. As much as 100 years later.
I recently watched this video in total amazement.
And it makes me wonder what could still be possible — what could still take shape among us too — we who are still living, we who can choose, and we who can become utterly surprised when the unthinkable and the seemingly impossible presents itself.
This week in my writing, I’d like to invite us to become students of nature. This may be well timed because I’ve been watching a lot of David Attenborough documentaries lately. 🙂 But also, over the last month, I’ve had the occasion to visit a lot of local parks in my town. There is always much to notice, discover, appreciate, and reflect upon.
There’s that saying, too: You learn something new every day.
Yesterday, I learned a new word — When springbok in Africa discover the joy of a rare rain in the Sahara Desert and the subsequent growth of new grass, they begin pronking.
As we begin a new month, we can practice slowing down and noticing. As we begin a new month, we can practice appreciating what’s around us. As we begin a new month, we can practice gratitude for what we can witness.
And this very day, may something cause you to jump for joy.
At the end of the month, I always like to say thank you for following here at Smuggling Grace. I appreciate you taking the time to connect here, and as always, thanks for engaging too. I enjoy reading and hearing your comments virtually on the platform, in emails, or during real time conversation. Thank you!
And I’m always happy to expand the audience as well. Do you know anyone who might enjoy connecting with this blog? If so, feel free to pass it along. The more the merrier!
And I wish you a wonderful spring! Wherever you are, I hope you’re starting to have some lovely weather.
When I lead worship in congregational settings, I typically use gender-neutral language for God. But over the last few years, in my own personal, spiritual practice, I use feminine language and imagery almost entirely.
It’s not that I believe God is literally female. I don’t believe God is literally male either. God is a Mystery beyond our our limited language.
But yet, precisely because God is Incarnational, God can be made known and revealed to us in our limited language, often in very intimate ways. Jesus used the personal title Abba to address God, a word that might be translated, “Papa.” I find this at once to be endearing and intimate, while revealing an orientation of trust.
Biblical scriptures are written in Hebrew and Koine Greek, and because of their particular grammatical structures, a lot of language about God gets translated into a grammatically masculine framework. (Think about languages like Spanish or German and the ways they assign grammatical gender to nouns).
Then all of that grammatical gender gets internalized inside of us. Quite naturally, we begin to make connections between that grammatical gender, our cultural understandings of gender, and God. More challenging, we take the those very cultural understandings, including distortions of masculinity, and paste them onto God. Then, we make these distortions Ultimate in our world.
When all of this happens, we stop noticing the feminine imagery for God in those very same Biblical texts. (For more on this, see Elizabeth Johnson’s enlightening book, She Who Is). Worse, we begin to connect with a god who is primarily distant, angry, and vengeful (again, distortions of masculinity) – one who wields power over others and initiates the very hierarchy by which we do the same.
So here’s a question for us:
How many of us grew up picturing God as a bearded man in the sky — perhaps even an angry, bearded man?
Most of us don’t believe in that god anymore. Thank goodness.
But even if we don’t believe in such a god anymore, this old, internalized understanding can still get in our way. It can be challenging to pray to God when that ghost of a god keeps popping up. Maybe we don’t even notice he’s there. But in conversation about God, we keep finding ourselves feeling afraid or ashamed. Or maybe prayer feels silly and embarrassing because our understanding of God, however amorphous, still feels like a cartoon or a caricature.
This can be challenging. For all of these reasons, I often encourage the people I mentor to try using feminine language for God exclusively for a while. Does it feel different? Does it open up new understandings? Does God feel closer, and less like a cartoon?
It might not be helpful for all people, but I have found it to be helpful for me. It’s just something to try. Thankfully, the God Beyond Our Understanding is quite capable of revealing Herself in our very limited language.
To close, a brief story:
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that I love the moon. Referencing Harry Potter, I’ve joked that The Moon is My Patronus. Years ago, I wrote a series with photos of the moon, delving into feminist spirituality, and adding some poetry.
Years ago, I was walking around the University of Michigan campus, and in just the right place at the right time, I saw the full moon very low in the sky. In contrast to all that was around it, the moon looked so enormous, bright, and present.
And always — always! — when the moon is like this, I want to snap a really good photo of it. I always try. But you know what is true every single time? It’s utterly impossible.
Unless you have special equipment, you cannot get an adequate photo of a contrast moon because the camera does not process that contrast in same ways our brains do. Every photo looks woefully inadequate. I just cannot capture the experience.
I think God is like that. Our language and imagery is woefully inadequate. But as we open ourselves to the moment — endearing and intimate, trusting with the fullness of ourselves— She will surely meet us.
“See how the moon has risen, among the stars that glisten high in the firmament. Dark stand the woods and silent while from the meadows island white veils of ghostly mist ascend. Now has the world grown silent, while in the evening’s twilight we find protective peace, as in our quiet chamber after much toil and labor in healing sleep we find release. Look, how the half moon shineth while from our view it hideth its fullness, round and whole. Thus many truths are hiding from utter lack of striving on our part to see them whole. The hour draws near for sleeping, and rest and in God’s keeping entrust we body and soul. Protect us, Lord from danger, keep watch o’er barn and manger and make our ailing neighbor whole. Entrust we body and soul. And make our ailing neighbor whole. See how the moon has risen.”
This, of course, is so obvious that it’s hardly worth being the topic of a blog post. But perhaps it’s obvious to the point that we could think about it more often. Maybe with some intention, we might feel greater hope too. Because….
What we do matters.
Now surely, some actions have bigger impacts than others. And when we move in directions we regret, we can always change course. After all, everything catalyzes everything, and our course correction shifts the whole. Even the recognition that we need a course correction had a catalyst. Something woke us up to that. And now the shift will have impacts too, creating space for new possibilities.
So back to this:
What we do matters.
What we do – how we spend our time, how we speak, how we relate, how we create, how we care – it all matters.
Because it always initiates a sequence of effects, often well beyond what we might have imagined. It’s not about us. But our actions matter. We impact things, just as they impact us.
Every morning, I receive daily email meditations from Richard Rohr. I love them, and I recommend them to people all the time.
Richard Rohr sent a piece about collaborative leadership, juxtaposing it with the kind of leadership that dominates and determines decisions alone. He lifted up what is possible when leaders and entire communities begin to create cultures of collaboration. I like his list, so I’m going to share it today:
“Here are some insights into what every good, servant-hearted, nondual leader knows and practices, whether in community, in the workplace, or in the classroom. Creative leaders:
are seers of alternatives.
move forward by influencing events and inspiring people more than by ordering or demanding.
know that every one-sided solution is doomed to failure. It is never a lasting solution but only a postponement of the problem.
learn to study, discern, and search together with others for solutions.
know that total dilemmas are very few. We create many dilemmas because we are internally stuck, attached, fearful, over-identified with our position, needy of winning the case, or unable to entertain even the partial truth that the other opinion might be offering.
know that wisdom is ‘the art of the possible.’ The key question is no longer ‘How can I problem solve now and get this off my plate?” It is “How can this situation achieve good for the largest number and for future generations?’
continue finding and sharing new data and possibilities until they can work toward consensus from all sides.
want to increase both freedom and ownership among the group—not subservience, which will ultimately sabotage the work anyway.
emphasize the why of a decision and show how it is consistent with the group’s values.”
We can cultivate this kind of leadership. The challenge, of course, is learning how to organize communities in these ways when there are so many cultural pulls to keep organizing ourselves in top-down models. But new ways are always possible. They lead to an empowered community.
And sometimes, a community has to become empowered enough to say, “We want that.” When this happens, the community itself is the leader.