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Destruction and Exile

This past Sunday evening I had the honor of teaching at The Well. The Well is a gathering of college students, hosted by Grand Valley State University, that takes place at a church on the west side of Grand Rapids. I’ve been interning with GVSU Campus Ministries since the beginning of October and have really come to love Sunday nights with these students. We’ve been going through the BIble, in timeline fashion, to hit the points and events that are significant to God’s relationship with us and how God’s promises are fulfilled through Christ. I requested to teach during the season of Lent and then was assigned 2 Kings 24:18-25:21. It was painfully perfect for me.

This is not an easy text to read. It’s full of horrible things that happen. The king of Judah had to watch his sons murdered before his eyes and then he, himself, was tortured. And then the entire people of Judah had to watch as their home, their places of worship, essentially everything was destroyed all around them. Could you imagine watching your home, your spaces of comfort, come crashing down? Everything you had once known to be true about your home, about your faith, about your community, about GOD, is no longer?

What happens when our very lives are shaken to the core? Where is God in all of this?

And then, after all of this destruction, the people of Judah were pushed out, forced to leave their home, pushed into a foreign land leaving everything behind. I can imagine they stood in the midst of a horrifying tension: home is no longer what we know as home, so on the one hand, what good is it to stay here? But, on the other hand, I’m sure they were terrified about the foreign land that lay before them as they were pushed into exile.

Where is God in all of this?

I think we’ve all been there. Perhaps some have experienced natural disasters that ruin our belongings and cause us to ‘start over’. Or perhaps we’ve had our lives rattled in other ways: maybe someone you love has become very ill, maybe you’re approaching the end of the college years and beginning to wonder if you even want to do what you’ve planned on all along. Perhaps you’re graduating and the next step, this new life in ‘the real world’ you’ve been encouraged to look forward to, isn’t quite panning out. You can’t find a job. You’re experiencing broken relationships, heartbreak, uncertainty about the future. We’ve all been rattled in one-way or another. And let’s be honest. It’s terrible. The people of Judah, what were they feeling during this destruction and exile? Loneliness, sorrow, confusion, disappointment, devastation, depression, rejection, loss of identity, fear?

Where is God in all of this?

I know I certainly can resonate. When I first knew I had the topic of destruction and exile and then preceded to read this account in 2 Kings, I found myself shaking my head in agreement. Yes. I know this. Unfortunately, I know this.

My experience living out west last year was incredible. I wouldn’t change a moment for anything. However, it was my first time living out of state, away from family, away from many of my close friends, what I knew to be home and community. While there, I experienced loss. Two events in once day, in fact: a broken relationship that had been invested in and expected to last much longer and about an hour after that devastating event occurred my mom called to tell me that my uncle, with whom we had been on a long, emotional journey with cancer, had passed. I felt completely helpless. A best friend I had expected to potentially marry and a man, my uncle, with whom I had shared a bond and had made plans to spend time out west. Now not here, not with us.

Though I had a few good friends (new and old) out there, the very people in which I found greatest comfort, including the person that had just ended a relationship with me, were nowhere near. That day is so vivid for me and yet such a blur. It was exhausting, sickening, lonely.

I thought moving back to Michigan to attend seminary as previously planned would be a great remedy and ‘cure’ for this heartbreak and grief. Not so. My move back ‘home’ had me in a new town, away from my closest friends, in a full load of seminary classes…this only perpetuated my difficulty. I wanted to go back to Colorado, but I didn’t want to leave my family. No place felt like home. I wanted to be nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Not what I had expected. I felt like I had been pushed into my own sort of exile.

God, this is not what I had in mind.

Some comfort came from this: God wants to hear our voice, even in the midst of tragedy, sadness, and disappointment. God’s desire is to be in relationship with us and it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to tell God that we are hurting, confused. This is how God begins to reorient us.

A number of things have helped me walk through this time of devastation and displacement in my own life. One of those being the practice of writing lament.

Rather than try to buck up and move on, or just ‘deal with’ these tragedies, I opened the Psalms.

Roughly 1/3 of the Psalms are laments, some written by those who experienced this destruction and exile. These laments are expression of agony, heartache, and they’re written to God. It’s easy, as Christians, to think that we need to push through struggle and put on a happy face. But the reality is that we go through times of utter despair and the Psalms, and our own laments to God, are part of what being in relationship with God is about. Lament is not in opposition to faith, it’s an act of faith. It points us to God’s relationship with us and that moves us toward hope. We have permission, found even in the Psalms, to lament.

The best part about the Psalms of lament? There’s always a BUT or a YET. This is the moment that reorientation takes place.

Though my pain is unbearable, You, O Lord, are wonderful and beautiful. 

We serve a God who is good, who is loving, and has our best interest at heart.

As people of God, we live in exile, BUT we don’t stay here. We have ultimate HOPE in a God who loves us and guides us and wants to reorient us toward that HOPE.

Though I have moved through a lot of the grief that comes with loss, I continue to lament and cry out to God in pain. It is the only way I feel fully honest with God and the only way for me to process my experiences. Sprinting through grief doesn’t seem to really get to the root of things. I think a slow waltz might be more appropriate.

In the midst of lament, I do my best to hold onto the morsels of hope that have been gifted to me: my loving family and friends, the many sunsets and sunrises I’ve witnessed by the lake where I live, the laughter that is often prompted by my goofy nephews.

As we continue to walk through Lent as a people of God, let us embrace permission to share in lament for what was, recognize what is, and have HOPE for what will be in the name of Christ.

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Ashes

Ashes. A campfire smoldering the morning after. A clogged chimney. What remains after a house has burned to the ground. The remnants of a volcano eruption, a wildfire in the western forests.

Dust. The stuff that violently churns during a desert wind storm. The particles that settle on the windowsills and picture frames in the house. What flies around in the attic, hazing the rays of sun through the only window.

Since last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, I have been pondering what ashes and dust mean for us, daily, in this season of Lent.

I don’t know the man that marked my forehead at church last Wednesday morning, but I felt connected to him in that moment as he spoke the words over me, “Remember that from ashes you came and to ashes you will return.” The humanity in that moment is so blatant and powerful. Person looking at person, the ashes of something that once was now being spread on my forehead by the hands of a mortal human, onto the flesh of my forehead. Each time I looked in the mirror on Ash Wednesday I was provided with a reminder of my limited ability and time here on earth.

I do know the four people that have served communion to me the past two Fridays during our chapel services at the seminary. As with the man on Ash Wednesday, and even more so, these Eucharist moments have moved me and brought me to near tears, looking into the eyes of four of my friends as they speak to me, “This is body of Christ, broken for you. This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.” Their hands holding the bread and the cup, a physical, tangible reminder of humanity, of Christ’s time in a body, like us, experiencing pain and emotion and physical interaction with others and with creation, experiencing death.

I read the following call and response yesterday morning in Common Prayer:

“You take dry bones and clothe them with bodies : create a church from those who are dead.”

The ashes, the bread, the wine, all call us into the creation of Christ’s living church. Not just those of us who are physically present, but those whose ashes have already been spread and smeared in corners of the world. Ashes and dust not only reveal death to us, they promise the life that has been offered to us in Christ. Though they aren’t marked on our foreheads each day of Lent, we see ashes here and there every day. The ashes are with us. We breath them in and through them, through Christ, we have life.

Breath deep the ashes of the Living God.

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Blessings, Renewal, Gathering the Bones

Moon Date: February 3, 2015

Love Feast: semolina loaf, pomegranate seeds, goat cheese drizzled with honey, dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds, pinot noir

Soundtrack: Bon Iver Station on Pandora

“We all began as a bundle of bones lost somewhere in a desert, a dismantled skeleton that lies under the sand.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estes

After stepping into the wilderness on January’s moon, I’ve been working on gathering my bones.

My dear, soul-friend and I are reading through a book together this year. The book runs along the veins of story-telling, spiritual becoming, and the wild woman that lies within. Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, provided a rich backdrop for our conversation surrounding February’s moon theme and at our celebration on the night after the Full Moon I couldn’t help but think that God, The One Who Knows, had something to do with this timing.

This month’s moon brings with it Celebration, Creativity, Renewal, and Blessings. Somehow, these themes resonate with me as I reflect on the last month, feel a faint fluttering in my gut, have an inexplicable energy that is quietly, but surely pulsing within. I think I am beginning to gather up my dry bones.

In this process I am reminded of the passage in Ezekiel when the prophet converses with the Lord at the valley full of bones, the people of Israel (37:1-14). Though I am not yet to the dancing, not yet the army come back to life, I do believe I am just beginning to discover the places where I’ve left some of my dry bones behind. At times I feel as if I could fill the Grand Canyon full of more bones than my body actually could contain. There are femurs lost to heartache, skulls in the sand due to loss, and metacarpals scattered everywhere because of unmet expectation, confusion, and discouragement.

But, thankfully, I have a heart that still beats and with my heart I might conjure up a song to sing life over what I have left behind, as Estes puts it, “to breathe soul over the thing that is ailing or in need of restoration“.

And with that I breathe in: Blessings. Renewal. Creativity. Celebration. And breathe out: Blessings. Renewal. Creativity. Celebration.

There was a noise, a rattling sound…(Ezekiel 37:7, NIV)

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Wisdom From A Bear

I have a handful of favorite phrases/quotes that have stuck with me for years and have somehow become anchors for me at any given time, during any given season. A few of them I have typed on plain white computer paper or painted onto canvas that hang in sight, reminders of who I want to be, reminders of grace in my imperfections.

The following little blurb, however, is one I hold so dear for other reasons. It brings with it a memory of great laughter, the kind that comes from your belly, most genuinely and in an instant. I laughed this way because it is so true and so perfect for the way I feel about the subject: breakfast. I read this quote in one of my favorite brunch spots in Denver, Colorado, Duo. When my friend first told me about Duo she said to me, “Erin, I don’t know how else to describe it besides saying it’s just so you.” When I walked into the place for the first time I knew exactly what she meant. I felt as though I had walked right into my own kitchen, my own home, my own space. It was perfect and the food, each time I had the privilege to eat there, was quite perfect, also. Printed on one of their sweet menus was the following:

“‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’

‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’

‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.”      -A.A. Milne

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Pooh.

I’m already looking forward to breakfast tomorrow morning.

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Misfit Dinner Party: First Occurance

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Theme: Burns Night

Menu: Apps - Assorted Cheese Board
1st Course – Cockaleekie Soup & Oat Cakes
Main Course – Rosemary Minted Lamb, Mashed Potatoes, Wilted Kale
Dessert – Raspberry Creme Trifle

Soundtrack: Pipes. Bagpipes.

When I began attending classes at the seminary this past fall I wasn’t quite sure what kind of friends I would make, if any. I like people. I usually like all people and consider everyone I meet at least an acquaintance. But, little did I know I would meet THIS bunch of people, fellow students who would soon become friends. And how? I’m not sure just how but for some reason this small group of six (and there are more wonderful friends at the seminary than just these six) were drawn to one another. And we’re a quirky bunch. We represent the states of Iowa, Tennessee, Michigan, and Missouri. Only one of us grew up in Holland. We lay claim to nondenominational, Presbyterian, Lutheran and general Reformed church traditions. We range in age from young twenties to one who is old enough to be my father. Many other things make us so not alike, but yet, I think we would all agree that we really like one another. And that we are so much alike.

Early in the semester we noticed that we kept spending time with one another, sometimes by accident, other times intentionally. We spent most of our time studying together, then going out for dinner or a drink here and there together, and then we caught ourselves sharing bits and parts of our lives and pasts with one another. And then we decided that this would be ‘a thing’. And now we’re organizing dinner parties once a month, passing the baton to each person in the committed crew to organize and prepare a themed dinner. Our first occurrence of the Misfit Dinner Party will be a difficult act to follow.

Being of Scottish decent and a lover of literature, the first dinner was arranged and presented by one of our dear gal friends. Her enthusiasm for Burns Night (an annual celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns) was so that we began planning this dinner party months ago. We anticipated this night well as we heard stories of how her family celebrates this night every year. For her and her extended family, it’s a big affair; kilts, sashes, tartans, and all. It felt an honor to be invited into the celebration and it was truly wonderful.

In typical Burns Night fashion we listened to bagpipes, read poetry, ate a three course meal, and offered the traditional toasts to the lads and the lassies (with scotch, of course). And then we ate some more. I loved everything about this night. We were invited into a tradition and in doing so we caught a glimpse of another life, another story. Burns Night brought us together again. One could blow off the reading of the poetry, forget the toasts, raise a glass half-heartedly. Instead, all these moments allowed us to learn about one another and share with one another ways in which we were thankful for our friendship and thankful for the ways in which we are who we are. To think that a man who lived in the 18th century is bringing people together to celebrate words, life, and each other is quite remarkable. Cheers to you, Sir Rabbi Burns.

It also helps that the oat cakes were so delicious. And the scotch wasn’t so bad, either.

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January’s Moon

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Moon Date: January 4, 2015

Dinner: Clementine, Fennel, & Quinoa Salad

Love Feast: Cardamom Bun drizzled with honey, Divine Dark Chocolate with Fruit and Nuts, Ginger Tea

Soundtrack: silence

In celebration of the first Full Moon of the year 2015 I went for a walk in the woods. In the daylight the deep snow illumined the dark browns of the naked branches and the strong, heavy wind forced the trees into conversation.

This year it is my hope to acknowledge each full moon, celebrating in whatever means seem fit for the given month. A dear friend of mine introduced me to the idea and her presence will be with me in these celebrations whenever schedules allow. The cycles of the moon offer a chance to notice the pattern of things, the waxing and waning of not only the moon herself, but of my own heart, mind and spirit, God’s creation around me, and so importantly, God’s voice. The moon has a lot to tell us. She informs us of the weather and shares knowledge with the farmers who so intently pay attention to the earth. She tells us about womanhood, shares insight about her brother, sun, and reminds us of how God illuminates so many wonderful things in the dark that we most often run from. God created her with purpose, and with her help, we might discover a little more of who God is.

This first full moon I spent alone. In silence.

As the moon rose, January’s moon, it was dark, windy, cloudy. To start the new year, my intent on this first celebration was to be quiet, to welcome silence, to create space for God’s voice to be heard.

I stepped into my own wilderness after walking in the woods, after finally turning off the music, closing my laptop, and after finally shutting the door to my bedroom. It took me all day to bring myself to do this. The only sound I could hear was the muffled roar of the wind in the trees outside and the thin, wooden candle wick burning next to me. I sat down on the floor, legs crossed, eyes closed, and in an instant my tears flowed like heavy rain down an eaves trough. Welcome, moon. Welcome, God.

This is what we try so hard to avoid. We keep ourselves, our bodies and minds, busy. We fill the quiet spaces with podcasts airing other people’s stories. We turn the music up a little louder, turn on the television as soon as we get home just to fill the quiet spaces. We do anything to keep from being along with our thoughts. And there is good reason for that. It’s lonely. It’s painful. It’s ugly. In the silence, we are forced to confront our feelings, the emotions that have worked to hard to cover up with ambient noise. I know this all too well. If I keep moving, just fast enough, I have no time to notice what is stirring inside. If I pencil just enough events in my calendar, attend just enough social affairs, my attention can be directed to others, asking THEM the question “How are you?” and skirt over the answer when the inquiry is returned to me. I respond with, “I’m good”, change the subject, inflect cheer in my voice. I know better.

Unfortunately, what I think I (we) need most is to welcome the silence. The more we run from the quiet, the more clanging cymbals and gongs we fill our lives with, the less we invite healing. Silence is scary. It asks us to be vulnerable, to be alone with ourselves, our own worst enemy. But, should we muster up the courage to enter silence, enter our own wilderness, we find that no matter what kind of ugly cry it might induce, we are not alone. God waits for us in those moments. God is already in the silence, ready to receive us as we are, and ready to speak in a voice that may be so quiet it demands the dreaded silence. God offers healing in silence. I dare you to enter it.

Note to Self

Self, 

You should probably do something (maybe set an alarm, write a note, etc) to help remind you that you have a sweet potato in the oven baking for tomorrow’s lunch. I know that you really got into that movie (the Help, for the record) and you weren’t thinking about lunch for the next day. You’re really lucky that the house didn’t burn down. You’re lucky that instead of smelling like ashes and smoke, the house smelled of sweet, delicious, orange potato. Way to leave the oven on all night. This is not like you. I will excuse it this time. 

Sincerely yours, 

Self aka ELS