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Spiritual Foundations of Racial Justice

Photo credit: Fourandsixty via Wikimedia Commons. Howard University chapel – detail of stained glass window – Howard Thurman
At this time of bitter political division, in this time of racial reckoning, I find myself asking, “Who will bring healing to us? Who will bring us together?” As we celebrate Black History month in the U.S., I wonder, “Where did Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. find his strength? Where did he get support? How would he guide us in these times?”

Lerita Coleman Brown recently reminded me that Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman served as a spiritual guide to King. Thurman helped King stay spiritually grounded in the midst of his struggles for racial justice. King carried a copy of Thurman’s groundbreaking book, Jesus and the Disinherited, wherever he went.

Moreover, Thurman served as a spiritual guide for many others in the Civil Rights Movement. He advised James Farmer, Sherwood Eddy, Pauli Murray, and A.J. Muste. He reminded leaders that, like a tree, their strength and reach went only as far as the depth of their roots.

Howard Thurman was born in 1899 in Daytona Beach, Florida. He experienced God in nature and was profoundly influenced by his grandmother, a former slave and a person of deep faith. After graduating from Morehouse College as valedictorian of his class, he was ordained a Baptist minister and went on to study at Colgate Rochester Divinity School. Eventually, he became Dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University and then Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University.

In 1935, Thurman traveled to India, where he met Gandhi. The two conversed widely and deeply and Gandhi questioned Thurman closely about racial injustice in the U.S. Gandhi opined, “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.”

Thurman viewed his calling as being a spiritual support to the leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, and as helping them learn a nonviolent approach to working for racial justice. He knew that the success of the movement depended upon its spiritual foundation. He prayed deeply and worked tirelessly to build that foundation and nurture the leaders.

If we could ask Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King how to face the challenges of our time, I’m convinced he would point us to God. He would remind us that we need to draw on our spiritual foundations to face the challenges of these times. Racial justice will come only through deep spiritual transformation. The healing of our political divisions, likewise, requires spiritual grounding. King would urge us to seek wise leaders like Thurman to guide us in developing our spiritual foundation. May we draw on the inspiration of King and Thurman and deepen our spiritual roots to face the challenges of our time.

[This blog is a further development of the January 2017 blog.]

Fill Your Heart with Joy: The Journey of Pilgrimage at Home

By Chuck McCorkle, Jackson Droney, and Margaret Benefiel

A pilgrimage is a journey, of experience if not of geography, into new and seemingly uncharted territory. . . With vision somewhat more clear as a result of the journey, one can discover a richness within one’s own heritage which had previously been overlooked. . . [O]ur pilgrimage is taking us home. – Gerald May, Pilgrimage Home

No matter how short the distances and familiar the route you travel on a given day, you can do it as a pilgrim. . . Whether the journey is within your own backyard or takes you to the other side of the world, the potential is there for the greatest of adventures: a journey not only toward [God] but also with [God]. – Jim Forest, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life

In this season of Epiphany, we recognize the Magi as the first pilgrims of the Christian era. Following the light of a new star in the heavens, they were led, through unfamiliar lands, to the place where it shone on a young child, and they rejoiced and were filled with great joy. This first pilgrimage can serve as a guide for us. When we suspend the activities of daily life to travel and seek out the light of the world we also will be rewarded. But how do we accomplish this when we are home in quarantine and our travels are limited?

In times of pestilence and warfare, early pilgrims were forced to find safer alternatives to travel, and many walked the labyrinth, like the one embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral, in symbolic pilgrimage. Unlike a maze, which is designed with deceptive turns leading nowhere, all turns in a labyrinth lead the pilgrim toward the center, toward God, allowing one to free oneself of worry and to delight in the journey.

How then might we reimagine pilgrimage during this time of COVID-19? Can we open ourselves to the movement of the spirit and imagine entering into a sacred space of beauty and deep spiritual inspiration in a journey safely close to home?

The inspirational messages of the saints that continue to resonate and inspire are certainly not confined by location. And since our options for travel remain limited, we, like early pilgrims in times of plague, have been planning safe alternatives to our in-person pilgrimages. In our other programs and activities, we are finding that virtual technologies (like Zoom) can offer creative ways to build sacred community. Large group activities help bind us together while small groups allow for more intimate sharing and discovery.

Pilgrimages provide structures and companionship which enrich and encourage personal and community journeys, journeying closer to God. We invite you on such a journey with us as we embark on a virtual pilgrimage and walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi in May.

As the stories of these saints unfold, the glorious art which echoes their lives can be explored in new and creative ways and used as inspiration for a contemplative practice based upon these images. Designated private time for journaling and reflection helps deepen the personal experience. We will support one another in making space in our lives and locations for this journey and, with the aid of labyrinthlocator.com, we can find local labyrinths to walk as part of our collective journey. We are excited and energized as we reimagine pilgrimage to meet these challenging times. There is the possibility of being filled with great joy.

Won’t you consider joining us on Zoom as we safely walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi in May?

An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Shalem eNews, January 2021. Used with permission.

Living in Liminal Space

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

In this week between two worlds, the world of 2020 and the world of 2021, I’ve been reflecting on liminal space.  What is liminal space? Susan Beaumont, in How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, describes liminal space as the space between the old and the new, when the old has disintegrated and the new has not yet come.  Our human will has a bias toward returning to the old or rushing to the new, profoundly uncomfortable in the liminal space.  Yet the liminal space provides the holding environment for gestation.  Waiting in the liminal space provides room for creativity and growth.

2020 served up a lot of liminal space for me and for the Shalem Institute, the organization I serve in leadership.  For example, when COVID-19 hit, I had no roadmap.  Our strategic planning process had not, in our wildest imaginings, anticipated this scenario.  Part of me felt tempted to devise a plan, any plan, to chart a course through this storm.

Yet another part of me knew I needed to wait.  Our old way of doing things wouldn’t work anymore.  The old was falling apart before our eyes.  The new had not yet emerged.  Prematurely rushing to devise a plan, I sensed, would prove counterproductive. 

And I knew I needed to listen.  Personally, I needed to listen for what was being invited.  Corporately, we at Shalem needed to listen.  I needed to help hold the space for our staff team to listen.  I needed to help hold the space for our board to listen.  Just because we couldn’t offer programs in our old tried-and-true ways didn’t mean the Holy Spirit had stopped working.  How could we listen for what the Spirit was up to now?

How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going  helped me recognize the normalcy of what we were experiencing.  It helped me stay in the uncomfortable liminal space and invite others into it as well.  Others had traveled this road before.  While COVID-19 was new, the experience of living in liminal space was not.  The degree to which we could stay in the liminal space with open, listening minds, hearts, and wills would determine the degree to which we could respond to the emerging future waiting to be born through us. 

While we still find ourselves living between the old and the new, with staff working from home and programs shifted to Zoom, with no clear end in sight, we have found that listening for divine guidance, experimenting, and trusting has served us well.  Surprisingly, enrollment in our programs has increased substantially.  Our community has been generous financially. Our staff and board are strong.  We are thriving.

Yes, we still lack a roadmap.  Yes, I’m still tempted at times to rush toward a new strategic plan.  Yes, it’s often uncomfortable and difficult.  Yet exercising our trust muscles for the past nine months has taught us that living in liminal space can be an adventure of listening, open-heartedness, and growth.

While I don’t yet know what 2021 has to offer, I want to commit myself to living in this ongoing liminal space with an open mind, open heart, and open will.

May we all experience the blessings of liminal space in 2021, even amidst its challenges.

Learning the New Song

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit. . . I will sing a new song. As difficult as it is, I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth of my life, my mind, and my spirit. I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God. How I love the old familiarity of the wearied melody – how I shrink from the harsh discords of the new untried harmonies.  – Howard Thurman


As I have reflected on this meditation by Howard Thurman during the election and post-election season in the U.S., I’ve asked myself, “What is the old tired familiar melody in my life at this time?” I realize that it is fear, despair, obsessive worry, knee-jerk actions. What is the new song for me? Discovering it requires listening. It’s God’s invitation to something fresh and new in each moment. It requires listening, learning the melody, and then singing along. This past three weeks since the election, it has been an invitation to deeper prayer for me. When I awoke the day after the election, I felt dismay and anxiety. I had wanted a landslide for my candidate and it appeared that someone I thought was dangerous for my country and my world had a good chance of winning. I watched in dismay as the authoritarian playbook unfolded before my eyes, with threats of stopping the vote counting and declaring victory prematurely. Never say, “it can’t happen here,” I reminded myself. 

How could my dismay at what was happening be turned into productive prayer and action, rather than obsessive anxiety? As I listened for God’s prayer in me, I heard the new melody. I found myself being drawn to pray deeply that that of God in each person in this country would be raised up and that what is not of God would fall away. I have returned to this prayer many times a day since that Wednesday morning.

As I prayed, I had a sense of God working, of the good being raised up in poll workers to give them the strength to keep counting ballots in the face of threats, of the good being raised up in judges to give them the courage to reject frivolous lawsuits, of the good being raised up in ordinary citizens to give them the will and the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood as they listen to the rhetoric of politicians. I have a vision of others who are uniting in the same prayer that I am praying, holding up one another’s arms in prayer as Aaron and Hur did for Moses, so that we don’t give up when we grow weary. The vision I see includes some who are called to pray at this moment, some called to work for fair ballot counting and protection of our democracy, some called to witness in the streets, some called to pray now and work tomorrow, others to work today and pray tomorrow, some to work and pray at the same time. The work and the prayer are integrated. As I listen for the new song, I continue to pray and sense how God is at work. I feel confident I will know what is mine to do when.  

As I listen for the new song, my prayer also moves to those who are marginalized. I’m aware of many who have been and still are suffering deeply, of the children at the border separated from their parents, of the black lives lost in police killings, of those in poverty especially vulnerable to COVID-19, and more. I pray that that of God in the marginalized will be raised up to give them hope and remind them of their dignity when they are tempted to despair. I pray that that of God in the rest of us will be raised up to give us strength and courage to fight for the protection of those on the margins.

This prayer feels deeper than any particular election. Even though my candidate has now been declared the winner, I continue to feel led to pray this prayer. We so need the good to be raised up in each of us as we move forward now as a country, as a world. Those of us who disagree with one another, who supported different candidates, need the good to be raised up in us so that we are not tempted, respectively, to gloat or to turn to bitterness and despair. We need the good to be raised up in each of us so that we can hear the good in opposing points of view. While I believe that the candidate who lost is dangerous for the country and the world, I believe that many who voted for him did so for reasons apart from the qualities I see as dangerous. How can I listen for the good in them? How can we carry out respectful dialogue and find our way forward as fellow citizens seeking to re-build a democracy together?

May we each continue to listen for the new song that is ours to sing. May we all learn to sing the new melodies. The degree to which we each faithfully sing our new song will determine the degree of harmony and healing manifested among us.

(An earlier version of this blog appeared in the November 2020 Shalem Institute eNews. Used with permission from Shalem Institute. )

Staying Rooted in the Storm

 All around me, the political storm rages.  With six days to go before the U. S. election, attacks sharpen, hostilities increase.  Political hostilities, possibly the worst ever, tempt me to hunker down, batten down the hatches, and wait it out.  I’m beginning to understand those Facebook friends who say they don’t want to see any more political discussion.

Yet part of me knows there is another way.

I think of the way that trees survive a storm. As the wind blows their branches wildly, they bend.  Yet they remain strong.  Their deep roots and flexible limbs allow them to weather the storm while standing in the midst of it.  While doing so, the trees provide shelter.  Their root systems prevent the ground from eroding.

In Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer brilliantly delineates the political storm in which we find ourselves.  He demonstrates how racism, consumerism, scapegoating, and the mass media which fuels their fires erode the soil of democracy.

But Palmer doesn’t stop there.  He shows us how we can be like the trees, deeply rooted and grounded, flexible, standing strong in the midst of the storm.  He shows us how we can provide shelter, how, by developing strong roots, we can be grounded leaders who prevent the soil of our society from eroding.  He explores the outward and visible infrastructures of democracy and proposes ways to make better use of them.  For example, school teachers can be grounded leaders by helping students connect history lessons to their own lives. History lessons about Nazi Germany parallel discrimination against minorities today, close to home; any culture carries within it the seeds of oppression, violence, and totalitarianism.

Furthermore, in school, students can practice democracy as well as learn about it.  Or students can engage in service learning opportunities in their communities, integrating their classroom work with the world around them.

Palmer also explores how congregations and community groups can practice deep hospitality, welcoming the stranger, engaging more fully with those who are different.  He points out how often relationships in such groups become superficial and how learning to risk vulnerability with one another enriches the soil of community.

Grounded leaders in schools, congregations, community groups, and (I would add) businesses can build the relationships and ways of being that form the foundation of a democracy.

I ask myself, “In what ways am I like the deeply rooted tree in the storm, exhibiting grounded leadership, providing shelter and preventing erosion in the political storm?  In what ways can I learn from the tree, incorporating more of Palmer’s practices into my leadership?”

May we all resist the urge to hide from the important tasks of shaping the world, instead remaining fully engaged and deeply rooted as political storms swirl around us.

(This is a revision of a similar article that appeared in the Executive Soul blog in October 2012, “Grounded Leadership: Staying Rooted in the Storm.”)

Scapegoating and American Politics

Jesus, a victim of scapegoating, understood all too well its origin and its outcome.  From the “Hosannas” of Palm Sunday to the “Crucify him!” of a few days later, Jesus witnessed the fears of the human heart and how easily those fears turn to blame.

What is happening in the heart of the person who turns to scapegoating? It’s easy for us humans to believe that by hating a person we despise, we separate ourselves from evil and differentiate ourselves as good. Yet the opposite is actually true. When we give in to hate, we begin to become like what we are hating. When hatred and violence grow in our hearts, we move closer along the spectrum toward the object of our hate.  Jesus knew this, and he also knew how unconsciously this was occurring when he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The battle between good and evil plays out not between individuals but within individuals. The battle between good and evil is fought within every human heart. Yet we naturally shun the fear and hatred within ourselves, and so we seek shortcuts instead of doing the hard inner work we need to do.  When a leader arises who blames a person or group for our woes, whether in a family, an organization, or a nation, the appeal of that leader proves strong.  At this moment in American politics, Donald Trump’s scapegoating of various groups, including African Americans and immigrants, is proving irresistible to many.  Why do the hard inner work, personally and as a nation, when it is so easy to blame others?

The trouble with scapegoating is threefold.  First, of course, it damages the individuals and groups who are its targets.  Second, it damages the ones who hate those individuals and groups by filling their hearts with fear and hatred.  Third, it doesn’t solve anything.  When, in the history of the world, has scapegoating resulted in a good outcome for those who scapegoat?  Never.  There is some relief for awhile, but the problems don’t go away because they haven’t been addressed at the root. So the cycle repeats itself: a new scapegoat gets identified, that person or group is crucified or chased out of town, some relief is felt for awhile, the problems resurface, and so on.

Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”  Who are the least of these today?  In America today, they are those we scapegoat.  Will we keep crucifying Jesus?  Will we keep participating in scapegoating or not standing up for those scapegoated?  Are you in the crowd, shouting “Crucify him!”  Are you Peter, not standing up for Jesus?  Or can you find it in your heart to stand with Jesus to the end, as the women at the foot of the cross did, and stand up for those scapegoated in our time and place?

(This article is a revision of the March 2016 Executive Soul blog).

3 Leadership Lessons from John Woolman

We currently face at least five pandemics in our world:

1) COVID-19

2) Racism

3) Police brutality and militarization of police

4) Climate change

5) Economic inequity

In the face of these pandemics and the related refugee crises, wars, world hunger, bitter political divisions in this country, and international political tensions, I sometimes find myself feeling helpless and even hopeless. What can one person do in the face of these impossible challenges? Where can I find the courage and hope to move forward? And in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, in which I must quarantine, no less?

I find the eighteenth-century American Quaker John Woolman inspiring and instructive for this time.  He faced one of the impossible challenges of his time, slavery, with prayer and action.  Through prayer and discernment, Woolman discerned what was his to do.  He felt called to travel to visit American Quaker slaveholders to challenge them to free the people they had enslaved.  Woolman was both loving and prophetic. He didn’t give into hating the evildoer while denouncing the evil of slavery.  He didn’t water down his prophetic message in order to “love” the slaveholder.  How did he hold this tension?

He held it through prayer and discernment.  After visiting a slaveholder, he would return to worship, holding that person in the Light, reflecting on the pro-slavery arguments with which he had been presented.  Not getting hooked by his ego, he would systematically refute each argument, returning to the slaveholder and presenting his thoughts clearly, with humility and love.  He knew that oppression hurt the oppressor as well as the oppressed.  He met each slaveholder with love, yearning for the slaveholder’s liberation from slaveholding as well as for the enslaved people’s liberation from slavery.

What can I learn from John Woolman in this time in which I find myself?  Can I love Donald Trump, a President I see as dangerous for my country and my world, for example?  When I pray for Donald Trump, I do feel compassion for him.  I see a hurt little boy inside and I long for his liberation from the fear and hatred that imprisons his soul.  Will I be called to speak truth to him?  Is there hope for his transformation?  These are questions that are beyond me.  All I know is that I will continue to pray for him and I will seek to be faithful as I am led.  I also know that I will work to get him out of office, to stop the damage I think he is doing.

Closer to home, how do I love the Trump supporters in my own family?  I know that I can pray for them.  When I pray, I am changed from an oppositional stance toward them to feeling compassion for them as I see the fears and hurts that draw them toward Trump and his rhetoric.  As I am led, I can speak to their fears and hurts, and also speak prophetically to them.  And when the conversations grow tense, I can keep returning to my spiritual grounding, keep praying that I will come from a place of compassion.  When my ego gets hooked and the conflict escalates (which happens more frequently than I like to admit), I know it’s time to take a break and center down.  Loving and speaking prophetically at the same time is a spiritual practice for me.  Will it change others?  I don’t know.  But I do know that it changes me and that it sows seeds of transformation in others that might take root and grow, either now or sometime in the future.  There is no template for loving across differences, no formula that we can follow that will result in transformation of others at the end.  There is the lifetime work of spiritual practice, practice that will change me and, through my actions, sow seeds in the world.  Whether those seeds grow is up to other people and to God.

So, in this time of multiple pandemics, how can we have courage, faith, hope, and love for all, even for those with whom we disagree? First, by staying spiritually grounded through daily spiritual practice. Second, by making the practice of loving across differences one of our regular spiritual practices. Third, by discerning in community “What is mine to do?” and being faithful in carrying out our part.

 

Soulful Leadership in Public Safety, Part I: Prison Fellowship

By Margaret Benefiel and co-author, Michelle Abbott

“Defund the police,” one of the rallying cries of the recent protests after the police killing of George Floyd and other black men and women, has gained traction.  Last week, for example, the Minneapolis city council voted unanimously to defund the police, recommending that the police department be replaced with other forms of public safety.

Tired of two decades of police reform efforts that haven’t reduced the number of police killings of black people, activists call for a more radical approach.  It’s not just a few bad apples in the police force, they argue; it’s the underlying system that’s rotten.  But if police are defunded, others object, won’t society be cast into chaos?

A new approach to public safety relies on many components: restorative justice, domestic violence prevention, school counseling, drug treatment programs, and more.  Advocates argue that their vision for public safety would cost less and prove more effective.

While it’s too soon to tell how this vision might play out in all its manifestations and how effective it could be in various settings, restorative justice is one component that has proven effective over time. International in scope, the restorative justice movement in the U.S. has seen good results in settings as diverse as schools and prisons.

For example, Charles Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, based on his Christian faith and his personal experience, as an ex-offender, of God’s transformative power. The prison fellowship brings classes and other resources to inmates throughout the U.S. to help them change their lives through Christianity and reintegrate into society.  According to a study about federal inmates participating in the Prison Fellowship Ministries program, recidivism rates decreased dramatically for those who were trained for religious leadership in a two-week seminar.

The Prison Fellowship focuses not only on the inmates themselves but also on the well-being of their children and on the ability of prison wardens to create a safer environment more conducive to rehabilitation. Summer camps and sports programs provide the children of inmates an opportunity to thrive and learn new skills even while their loved ones are away.  The Warden Exchange program gives wardens the tools to make changes to better support the rehabilitation of inmates.

It is clear that a lot of work is needed to re-envision the American systems that have been put in place for our collective public safety. From fighting for racial justice, eliminating police brutality, and ensuring police accountability to reducing the need for policing by improving our methods of rehabilitation, we need to deeply reflect on and restructure our responses to public safety.  The changes needed to re-create the structures that have been in place for so long are complex and perhaps daunting. They require new visions. They require strong leadership.  However, there are many voices proposing new solutions and alternative paths to creating an America that can be safer for all its citizens. Let us listen to those voices and together let us discern a way through the challenges we face to create a society where all members can feel safe.

Step by Halting Step: Leadership in Uncertain Times

In this season of the year, following the crucifixion and resurrection and Jesus’s subsequent forty days among the disciples, Christians celebrate the ascension, the time when Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven.

What a roller coaster that month and a half must have been for the disciples.  First, when they expected Jesus to proclaim himself king of Israel and overcome the Roman occupation, they got the crucifixion instead.  In shock and grief, the disciples hid away in fear. And then the resurrection came. Unbelievable. How could this be? Still in shock and grief, the disciples weren’t ready. Even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they kept hiding in fear.  It took most of the forty days that Jesus lived among them, post-resurrection, for the disciples to begin to trust that he was really back and really himself.

In this past Sunday’s reading from the book of Acts, after Jesus had been with them for forty days, the disciples wondered what would come next.  After forty days with the resurrected Jesus, they had at last recovered from some of the shock and grief and fear.  They began to anticipate the future with Jesus.  “Is this the time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” they asked.

But at that very moment, when they had finally regained their footing, Jesus turned everything upside down yet again.  First, instead of answering their question, he spoke what must have seemed like nonsense. And then he disappeared!  They were left open-mouthed, staring up at the skies.

Jesus had spent the past three years developing the disciples as leaders, asking them to join him in inviting people to encounter God more deeply.  And then he vanished, leaving them in charge.  Reeling in confusion, the disciples retreated to pray.

I find myself identifying with the disciples this past month and a half.  Just when I regain my footing, everything changes again in my leadership role at Shalem.  First, the cancellation of two pilgrimages and postponement of a major program, with the resulting loss of 10% of our expected income for the year. Then, our entire staff adjusting to working from home.  Then, all our programs being re-designed to be held online, programs that have cherished the in-person experience of deep connection with one another in beautiful natural settings. Then, a two-week quarantine stretching into six weeks, into three months, into…

Like the disciples, we, as a Shalem staff and board, retreated to pray and discern what is ours to do in these times.  We hear that this is a time for contemplatives, that living in love speaks to a world experiencing loss and grief, that being grounded in God invites people out of fear and panic into trust and hope.  We offer new resources to support people’s deep grounding, to help people live in the love that casts out fear.  We walk one step at a time, the future unclear.

I find that Susan Beaumont’s new book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, provides wisdom for these days.  Beaumont talks about leadership in in-between times, when the old way is gone but the new way has not yet emerged.  I believe that we won’t go “back to normal,” but that we are in the midst of a major shift, that we are being invited into a new way of being and doing worldwide.  What this means for Shalem is not yet clear. While we wait for the future to come into focus, we move by the light that we have. We will continue to listen and discern and seek to be faithful, step by halting step.

Like the disciples, our worlds have been turned upside down.  Like the disciples, we need to learn to lead when we don’t know where we’re going.  And like the disciples, we need to continue to pray and listen and be faithful, one step at a time.

 

 

Grieving and Rejoicing

On Good Friday, no one anticipated Easter.  The disciples, in shock and grief, hid away in fear.  Neither the disciples nor Jesus’s enemies expected resurrection.

And then the resurrection came.  Unbelievable.  How could this be?  Still in shock and grief, the disciples weren’t ready.  Even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they kept hiding in fear.

In the weeks following Easter, Christians observe “Eastertide,” a time of living into the resurrection.  So far, in the biblical stories read in churches the last couple of Sundays, the disciples aren’t doing too well at manifesting resurrection reality.  In one story, we find them locked away in a room out of fear.  In another, they are walking along the road and don’t even recognize the resurrected Jesus when he starts walking and talking with them.

What keeps the disciples afraid?  What makes them blind?  Why do they keep slipping back into a mentality of fear and disbelief even after Jesus appeared to them?

Perhaps they felt blindsided. Already reeling from the crucifixion, still taking that in, they weren’t ready for the resurrection.  Dreams shattered, hopes dashed with the crucifixion, they felt betrayed.  They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, about to deliver them from the cruelty of the Roman occupation. And then they witnessed the crucifixion.

Now this.  Could they trust the resurrection?  Their hurting hearts and confused minds struggled to make sense of it all.  How could this be? Was Jesus a ghost?  Perhaps they inwardly questioned: “Are you kidding me?” “Are you toying with us, Jesus?” “I won’t be tricked again.”  “Fool me once, shame on you. . .”

Perhaps they tried to shut out the pain by retreating into reason.  They tried to make logical sense of all that had transpired.  And of course they couldn’t.  The events defied rational explanation.

In this season of Eastertide as I observe the disciples, I’ve been reflecting on death and resurrection at Shalem, the organization I serve as executive director.  We have been living with grief as we feel the impact of the cancellation of two pilgrimages and a major program, losing over 10% of our annual income. Furthermore, we feel the loss of being together in person as a staff, the loss of hugs and walks and good food together, the loss of staying at retreat centers in beautiful natural settings.

At the same time, we see resurrection and new life.  We both grieve and welcome new life at the same time.  When the leadership team for our Group Spiritual Direction program creatively re-envisioned the program, interest quadrupled.  Our Young Adult Life and Leadership program also grew when the new format was announced.  Over 60 have registered so far for our online clergy retreat. As other program leadership teams wrestle with loss while also listening for the new life that is emerging, they also experience grief and resurrection together. A wave of sadness washes over us when something reminds us of the in-person experience we won’t have this year.  Then a wave of joy comes when creative juices flow and we see the potential for new life and energy in our re-envisioned program.  Then the waves get all mixed up together, many emotions roiling around inside of us all at once.

Like the disciples, we are living in a time of experiencing death and resurrection together.  Like the disciples we feel grief and hope, sadness and joy, anger and healing, sometimes in waves, sometimes all at the same time.  Let us be gentle with ourselves and with one another as we go through the grieving process while also learning to live in resurrection.