From the Pew to the Mat & Back

Hello friends! It has been a while since I added to my blog. In 2020, I felt a lack of words to describe my experience so I held on tightly to my husband and children and spent a lot of time outside enjoying nature. Now, I am back and have a new position as Pastor of Heights Christian Church in Houston. Each week, I will share with you the thoughts on my mind and the insights of my heart as I have crafted words to share with my new community. Thanks for welcoming me back!

As we begin this season of Lent, I must confess that I have Lent Fatigue Syndrome. Let me explain. For me, it felt like all of 2020 was a long season of lent because I spent much of 2020 participating in all the experiences that we associate with the season of Lent: introspection, self-reflection, meditation, repentance, a lot of time connecting to nature, and many days spent alone and in silence. For an extrovert who loves people and activities, this was a challenging experience and in some ways I still am waiting for the community Easter Celebration!!

So, I am having trouble embracing this new Lenten season and maybe many of you are feeling what I am feeling.  I wonder if you could join me in staying curious today about what we can learn from this new season of Lent? I think that if we can lean in a little, we can approach leant 2021 with fresh eyes and ears. And at least we will be following in the challenge Jesus gave the first disciples. He consistently challenged them to see with new eyes and to hear the message in new ways!!

Let’s refresh ourselves about the meaning of lent. Lent comes from an Anglo Saxon word that speaks of spring and the lengthening of our days as more sunlight is becoming available during this season. It lasts for 40 days because 40 days is a special number in our sacred text including being the number of days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. Lent is a time of repentance & a preparation for the celebration of Easter Sunday. Two words we use in connection with repentance are pretty interesting to me. Christianity.com says that sinners seek cleansing from sin, but also freedom from shame.  Cleansing and freedom. Now, these two words sound like something I could celebrate this year!

This Sunday, our scripture begins by sharing with us the story of Jesus participating in the cleansing ritual of baptism. As he rose out of the water, he heard the words, “ You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.” So the cleansing we experience at baptism acknowledges an internal experience or an internal cleansing that has already occurred where our heart sees things a new way and holds the truth that Jesus is the son of God. Baptism is also the outward sign that you join a community committed to following the way or the path of Jesus. You join a lineage, a long tradition, of people who came before you and people who will come after you who all are seeking to be faithful to the message of Jesus seeing it in new and creative ways that speaks to living life to the fullest in the present age.

A man who has been instrumental in my life over the past 3 years wrote a book to explore a new way to understand the spiritual life. Henri Nouwen’s book is called Life of the Beloved: Spiritual living in a secular world. In this book, he is writing to a friend named Fred about what it means to follow the path of Jesus in this day and time. When Henri first met Fred he thought he looked like a prisoner locked behind the bars of a society that was forcing him to work at something he did not believe in. Nouwen wrote that he felt a strong desire to set him free and help him see more clearly his values and desires. Nouwen outlines a path to follow and says to his friend, “So if you are interested in starting on the journey of the Beloved…In the pages that I now want to write for you, I would like to be your guide.” So, today as we are beginning a new friendship, I invite you to join me in exploring Nouwen’s themes during this new season of Lent. He will be our guide to the spiritual life, a conversation starter, and a way for you to get to know my heart for ministry.

The first step that Nouwen offers is that we must embrace the idea that I am The Beloved. Say that once in your mind. I am the Beloved.  The words sound so simple, so elementary and yet they take a lifetime to fully embrace. They were spoken over Jesus at his baptism..the very beginning of his ministry.. and they continue to reverberate through time and space.

Nouwen offers us 3 ideas about this statement First, that this statement is an inner truth that is rooted in humility. Second, it grounds us so that we aren’t wandering around everywhere looking for external validation from someone or some great achievement, and thirdly that it protects us from self-rejection.

First, this statement is both a celebration of who you are and is protected by humility. Over the years, Christians have had the tendency to hear statements such as this in an exclusive or elitist way so I love that Nouwen invites us to see the humility of this statement. Today, the Psalmist reminds us that those who are humble will be taught God’s ways and that God will lead the humble in God’s truth.

Humility from Latin humilis is earthy. It acknowledges the reality that my life is short blip on the giant screen of human history. Richard Rohr in a recent podcast I was listening to was speaking about the 5 essential messages of intitiation. What he is talking about is that historically and cross culturally there have been special male initiation messages. These male initiation rites took place with Young men between ages of 13-17 to let them know there is a deeper, bigger world than his own ego, his own self desires, & even bigger than his own tribe or community. Rohr connects this initiation experience to our sacred text by reminding us of the story of Jesus going to the temple at the age of 13. Jesus was the age for his initiation ritual to begin, but instead Jesus shows the teachers that they have nothing to teach him. So after his baptism at the age of 30, when he goes into the wilderness he is self-initiating…it is a radical judgement on the temple in that what they offered no longer spoke to what is needed to experience the transformation of mind, body & spirit.

One of the 5 messages of initiation that Rohr discovered through his research is the statement It is true that I am unimportant. It is not all about me. There is something bigger than me and a world larger than me. and yet the bible says in Luke 10:20, “do you not know that your name is written in heaven?”  So this second message is holding the tension between how special it feels to hear the words, “I am the Beloved,” and yet how earthy the words are because it is the truth about every part of God’s creation from the beginning of time.

This message of humility is central in the writings of many of the Christian mystics. Hildegard of Bingen adds to this earthy tone by defining Humility as valuing others as equal to or better than yourself.

She writes “O Humility who lifts to the stars the oppressed and the crushed! O humility, glorious queen of the virtues! What a strong and victorious protector you are to all who are yours! No one falls who loves you with a pure heart.”

Hildegard outlined 7 steps of the spiritual path that begins with humility and progresses through ever deepening levels of humility until full and complete surrender to the will of God.  Humility is considered an essential virtue of the entire spiritual life because it is the beginning, the end, and also protects our spiritual walk. Bringing us back to our statement…We can say It is true that I am the Beloved in the same way that You are the Beloved in the same way that we are all the Beloved.

Second, I am the Beloved grounds us like the trunk of one of the big trees outside in the courtyard. So what do I mean by being grounded. We experience a feeling of being grounded when we stand up tall, feel our feet touching the earth, observe the strength of our legs, and recognize that our core muscles are holding us upright. Being grounded helps us feel the strength to no longer be wandering around Looking for validation or to feel blown here and there by every wind of acceptance or rejection that might come our way. It is our stability. It is what we come back to time and time again as a reminder of who we are.

I know I have a tendency to think that the next thing or the next achievement or when I become a pastor then I will feel accepted, loved and enough. Although it is very nice to feel valued, this statement I am the Beloved helps me see more clearly that no matter if I am complimented or cursed that I know who I am in every cell of my being. This way I don’t cling to praise or run around looking for it. And I also don’t take the slippery slide of following the path of rejection. It sets me free. Both praise and rejection are fleeting moments—they come and they go–but what is solid and strong and will never change is that I am the Beloved.

Third, Henri Nouwen says that it protects us from self-rejection. He writes that “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved. He says that self-rejection is the darkness of not feeling truly welcome in human existence and that it hides itself cleverly in arrogance or is more easily seen in low self-esteem (pg 33).

I am the Beloved protects us from self-rejection by cultivating the virtue of Kindness.

Kindness is a personal quality that enables an individual to be sensitive to the needs of others and to take personal action to endeavor to meet those needs. It is a quality of one’s being, not just a matter of a person’s behavior!  Christianityetc.org

In order to cultivate the virtue of kindness that is a quality of our being, we must be aware of the internal chatter of our minds. How is your self-talk?  Is it judging and shaming? Is it evaluating and punishing? Or is it tender & accepting. The type of kindness we are talking about here is one that you have to experience giving to yourself so that it is how you operate as a human being in this world. It is much harder to embrace the statement I am the Beloved if our internal dialogue says, “Yea, right!? Or If Nouwen knew me better he would not invite me to say this statement.

One of the many reasons that I was happy to interview and get to know The Heights CC is because of how the congregation described itself on the profile.

  1. When asked the question,

How does this congregation bear witness in tangible ways to God’s healing, welcoming, reconciling presence in a broken world?

The profile read,

Our clear and unconditional welcome to people regardless of their background and identity, our practice of naming injustices without reservation, and our willingness to admit what we don’t know and learn, are the ways we bear witness.

The written answer described the humility you embody and the virtue of kindness that is a part of your very being.

My greatest desire as your pastor is to help you find practices and ways to connect that invite this truth to be felt in every cell of your being. If we can be a people rooted in humility, grounded by our truth, and operate in the world with the virtue of Kindness that is a quality of our beings, then we will see the fruit of being The Beloved. And maybe this is as simple as Tim McGraw sings, “I know you’ve got mountains to climb but Always be humble and kind.”

I am the Beloved. You are the Beloved. We are the Beloved.

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