Lent Day 43: SHAME

Today’s texts discuss SHAME. Our sacred texts report SHAME inflicted by others. They describe being brought low by internal turmoil or worldly conflict.

shameSHAME is a primal emotion and a powerful, but destructive motivator, causing us to alter behaviors and conform to societal standards. Read more about it in Psychology Today. SHAME can inflict damage, pushing and pulling us in directions that often lead away from wholeness and integrity, even when the SHAME we feel isn’t of our own making. It can be blunt or subtle. SHAME may be heaped on us by social norms and cultural expectations. It is also internalized and self-inflicted.

SHAME becomes a critical, editorial voice in our psyches. It negates our capacity to believe in and feel our worth and value as human beings.

Yesterday we discussed STRENGTH. And remarked that becoming vulnerable, confessing even those moments and experiences about which we are ashamed, can be a form of finding strength. Of course, sharing experiences about which we feel SHAME ought to be done gingerly and with some safety in the process. Victims of other people’s abuse and oppression or systemic violence and injustice can also be hurt by openly sharing their experiences publicly, unless they are prepared to do so, and the community can receive such stories supportively and tenderly. So such sharing ought to be practices and have boundaries.

Yet such disclosures of difficult stories, about which we feel SHAME, often help others who otherwise continue to keep secrets and hide parts of themselves about which they are ashamed. AA is a wonderful example of openly sharing one’s not-best moments about one’s self. The community that receives the story will listen without contradicting the speaker. The listeners do so withour judgment, and offer support and appreciation for the sharing.

Listening, bearing witness, and simply being present as a person process these emotions is the most powerful act of solidarity we can offer. This is tough to do, yet a potent response.

When those we love feel SHAME, we often want to fix the problem, or negate it. We rush to point out all the reasons why that skewed self-perception is incorrect, inaccurate, or invalid. Huffington Post writes briefly but compellingly about this habit of wanting to fix problems. Trying to persuade someone of his or her own worth, and countering those shame-filled stories, doesn’t help.

shame2Best practice? Start by simply listening and receiving the story. Be with the person expressing and enduring the SHAME.

Sometimes SHAME is buried deeply. And it drives us toward avoidance behavior and fear-based decision-making or coping mechanisms. Some SHAME may take time to uncover in ourselves. We can hide it from ourselves, too.

Becoming self-aware and identifying feelings of SHAME, and their triggers, is a long journey of self-discovery. Sometimes confiding feelings of SHAME begins in a  confidential, intimate setting, with a trusted companion or counselor or mentor. Or sometimes in a circle of other people with similar experiences, who are also sharing. Or sometime it happens through acts such as journaling, spoken only to a blank and non-judgmental page.

Yet ultimately, the power of sharing stories rooted in SHAME is that someone else listens and acknowledges their validity. Someone else reflects back the value of our human identity.

Putting such feelings into spaces and times of prayer and contemplation, and entrusting them to God, also offers a healing process. We can open ourselves, through prayer. We can offer honesty and vulnerability. Such expression of SHAME mitigates the power of SHAME over us. that liberates and releases us from this emotion, and allows us to know ourselves as worthy of love and redemption, and God’s love.

Listening is a spiritual practice. Receiving another’s story, and helping them find the language for their experience of SHAME, is a powerful way to be a companion on this Lenten journey. In today’s texts, even Jesus shares his troubles with his companions, unburdening himself along the way, believing they are strong enough, at least some of the time, to hear and honor what he shares with them. At other times, such as in the Garden of Gethsemane, he offers all of his feelings to Godself in prayer and dialogue.

SHAME is part of the brokenness of our human condition. Yet we are more than our SHAME. Part of our worship experience, our encounter with the sacred, is to entrust our SHAME into the keeping of holy love and mercy. Our SHAME is not enough to separate us from Godself. God loves every part of us, including our hurt and wounded parts.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:

  • Isaiah 50: 7 — The Lord God helps me;  therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
  • Psalms 70:2 — Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life.
  • Hebrews 12: 1-2 — Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
  • John 13: 21 — After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

Lent Day 30: HOPE

hope_by_licks_ninjas2HOPE rises up as a theme and as a word in today’s readings. HOPE is a seedling, planted inside us. HOPE is a practice, that we cultivate with regular care and use so that we can call on it when we’re in darker, more desperate times. HOPE is a relationship with a creative power, a loving presence, beyond ourselves, so we’re not “in this” alone. HOPE fosters trust that something more is possible.

HOPE sounds frothy. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

And that’s true. How do you HOPE when everything has gone wrong? When life and death is at stake, and nothing is fair, or just? When it’s not only yourself at risk, but those most beloved, and more vulnerable, and you cannot protect them? How do you HOPE, when you have no power or authority or resources to change circumstances or events to create better outcomes? When you cannot restore integrity and dignity to the situation? How do you HOPE, when you’re overcome, overwhelmed, and out of control?

hope_by_burythereckless-d6vz97yThe Jewish writer Victor Frankl, reflecting on the human capacity for survival and belief in the face of catastrophic events like the Holocaust, calls humans “‘why-shaped beings’ … on a continual journey of discovery.” Hospice physician Dr. Ira Byock paraphrases the work of Victor Frankl, observing that people who are dying do not suffer so much due to bodily changes or pain, or what Frankl calls the ‘how.’ People suffer due to loss of purpose, meaning, or what Frankl calls ‘why.’

HOPE comes from finding a sense of purpose or meaning. HOPE is the ‘why’ that motivates humans to endure, sometimes beyond imagination.

Or as the poet Emily Dickinson so famously wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Lines from this poem, illustrated by an artist who painted a wall of birds, spans the pedestrian bridge connecting Dana Farber Cancer Center and Brigham & Women Hospital. It creates a passage of HOPE for people living with life-limiting illnesses. My daughter and I often lingered there, watching the painter as the images came alive, and for years after, as I wheeled her to treatments that might extend and enrich her life a while longer.
Sometimes our own contemporary writers and thinkers and activists are prophets, too. People like Mother Theresa or Victor Frankl, or a poet like Emily Dickinson, see and touch something sacred. And share those insights with us, and help us walk the Way of Christ, 2,000 years later.

We are asked, over and over in Hebrew scriptures and Gospel passages, to choose and act from a place of HOPE and resilience instead of fear. When we act and speak out of fear, we’re often making imbalanced choices that are likely to hurt ourselves or someone else. Our faith balances out fear with hope and love.

Of course, fear has its place in humans; it keeps us alive in its most primal form. Fear isn’t wrong, but it has counterparts through hope, compassion, and resilience that we also need to consider and engage.

Our faith grows out of grappling with and acknowledging fear. I mentioned, in an earlier posting, that even saints like Mother Theresa and St. John of the Cross have known fear and depression and dark times in their lives. They have wrestled with those conditions, and named them, and turned them over to God. They have felt alone, isolated, emptied of all hope, and pushed through a time of darkness that seems endless. And yet, such people, in ancient times and modern days, have found their way back to a more centered and connected sense of self and being, even in the face of seemingly-insurmountable odds.

Sometimes hope arrives when we continue to practice our beliefs and rituals, even when they seem empty or hollow. Our practices of faith, such as prayer or working ethically in the world — even when it seems we cannot change situations and systems in meaningful ways through our own efforts — create the channel, the conduit, that allows the Spirit to reach us.

Ultimately, we aren’t asked or expected to pray or work alone. We are invited to do it in partnership with the Spirit.

Hope grows through connection versus isolation. Hope is turning a hand to what needs to be done, even if it’s a small portion of the greater change that we’re seeking to create. Hope is choosing for integrity and wellbeing, not just for ourselves, but for others, too. Sometimes hope is the capacity to choose at all.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:

  • Psalm 126:5-6 — May those who sow in tears  reap with shouts of joy.Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,shall come home with shouts of joy,carrying their sheaves.
  • Isaiah 43:1 — Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
  • Isaiah 43:5a — Do not fear, for I am with you.
  • Philippians 2: 23-24– I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

Lent Day 29: GO

Today the word is such a simple call to action: GO! It’s a command, a request, a suggestion, an invitation. It’s a call to leave whatever situation you’re currently in, and change scenes and directions. Head out to a new destination, a different purpose.

In Kings, we hear the story of a woman who follows the guidelines of a prophet, and experiences the mercy of a miracle that saves her family’s future. In Luke, we hear Jesus give instructions to his disciples, asking them to venture out among the crowds that had followed him to a deserted location, and care for them. In both cases, responding YES to this command to GO, leads to abundance and blessings.

What holds us in one place? What keeps us from moving out to do something new and different? Sometimes we’re comfortable and safe, and even complacent. Sometimes we’re already in danger, living on the edge, and cannot imagine having the resources to take another chance, and GO somewhere else, to do something else. Sometimes, we just need the invitation. Sometimes, we just need the to-do list.

It takes us from wherever we are, right now, right here. It sends us out into the world. It also suggests we will return.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary readings:

  • Kings 4:3 — He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few.
  • 2 Kings 4: 4– Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.”
  • 2 Kings 4:7 — She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”
  • Luke 9:12 —  The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.”
  • Luke 9:13 —  But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.”

Lent Day 18: FRUIT

Today’s passages from the Bible talk about sustainable crops with terms such as yield, grapes, and fruit. Human life and human spirit are spoken about through metaphor.

From living trees and vines, we grow. Alternately, without care, we may wither or fall and rot. Interestingly, the Gospel passage also talks about our unique gifts and blessings. Each tree bears its own type of fruit.

black-and-white-grapes-sally-bauerThe kingdom of God is compared to a vineyard, and we’re reminded about the tenderness with which it is domesticated and cultivated. It is surrounded by hedges, fed and watered, pruned and watched. Each of us, a vine or tree in this field or orchard, becomes the ‘pleasant planting’ of God’s love, commitment, and grace.

Without such vigilant care, we are trampled and devoured, and we do not yield a harvest that changes the world.

Seasons pass in anticipation of what will bud and grow. Yet sometimes the one who planted us is surprised by the harvest.

Of course, God may promise such care, but we are also the hands and feet, hearts and mind of God in the world. Whereas Christ may be the leading gardener, isn’t it wonderful to imagine ourselves as the gardeners of our communities and our lives? We are invited to tend and nurture ourselves, each other, and this world.

What fruit do you bear? What presence do you offer, rooted in God’s kingdom, right here on earth? What surprises do you offer to God and this world?

And what aspects of yourself and your life require additional tending, in the form of  self-compassion, self-care or perhaps self-discipline?

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 5: 4 — When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
  • Isaiah 5: 7 —
    For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
    and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
    he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
    but heard a cry!
  • Luke 63: 43-44 — No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit.

Day 12 of Lent: WAY

from: fabforgottennobility.tumblr.com

Lent is a time of spiritual journey and pilgrimage. We turn inward to learn more about ourselves, and we also look outward at our connection to the world. We practice following Jesus. We walk in his Way, with the help of the Spirit.

The Way implies movement. We are beings who move and grow: bodily, emotionally,  psychologically, and spiritually.

Humans are creatures of motion, traveling through time across varied geographies and landscapes. Our sacred stories are filled with motion. We depart, we journey from point A to point B, we get lost, we wander, and we arrive. We cross borders, bridges, and boundaries. We go through rivers and deserts, lakes and mountains, wilderness and cities. We pause at crossroads. We pass through doors and portals. We detour for walls and barriers. We turn back. We keep going. We ascend and descend. We swim, walk, run, ride,  or fly. We stop at places of safety: wells, oasis, gardens, temples, tents, and other places of refuge. We leave and go into exile. We return home.

We also stretch and expand with our minds, our emotions, and our spirits. So what does it mean to walk or stand firm in Christ’s Way? Consider the Gospel’s most basic and ethical commands: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Within that statement are the anchors of a covenant: God, self, and others (including creation). These are Jesus commandment, in their primal form, for living ethically.

During this season, you’re invited to ask yourself, what parts of walking in the Way come easily to you? And what parts need more attention?

Following the Way combines what we learn from scripture and tradition, and what we learn from intuition, intellect and experience. In today’s scripture, we hear that God’s word (the Bible) is one guide for the Way. Christ’s life of ministry serves as a template. Plus our church says that God is still speaking in the world today, through the people we meet and the insights we gain. Prayer serves as a chance for redirecting ourselves, as we respond to current events. Our community can be a resource as we study and follow the Way of Christ.

Sometimes the Way is more than a metaphor, it is also a physical pilgrimage. People travel certain roads, and visit specific sacred stations or sites, as a bodily journey through the landscape, toward a specific destination. The Way is embodied by a route that you navigate using maps and GPS. Examples of pilgrimage include walking along the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain for Christians or the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) for Muslims. Pilgrimage is a universal experience that can also be found in other faith traditions around the world.

  • Genesis 15: 4a — But the word of the Lord came to him.
  • Psalm 27: 11 — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path.
  • Philippians 4: 1 — Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
  • Luke 13: 32b-33 — ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.

Day 11 of Lent: BLESSED

As we journey through Lent, let us take a moment to consider blessings (the  common theme in today’s Biblical passages).

  • Sometimes blessings are parts of ourselves. Sometimes they’re internal: our talents and strengths, our emotions and thoughts.
  • Blessings might also be external resources: food, shelter, job, and education. They might be relationships with people (ex: family, friends, mentors, colleagues, community) and places such as special environments (ex: beach or mountains) or humanmade spaces (ex: sanctuary, concert hall, studio or gallery, kitchen, or athletic facility).
  • Blessings imply reciprocity. We receive them. We also give them.

blessed_hands1Let us name and count them up. And be grateful for them. Daily gratitude practices for our blessings have measurable benefits; they make a difference to our psychological outlook and also impact our physiological wellbeing. These practices can include praying about or journaling those things for which we are grateful each day.

Part of gratitude practices, beyond naming those things for which you’re grateful, includes feeling gratitude’s effect on your body. Being aware of blessings is more than a mental and emotional exercise, it has direct sensory connections to our body’s wellbeing.

Here are a few links for gratitude practices from different traditions, though much of the wisdom is shared among them:

Excerpts from daily lectionary Bible passages:

  • Psalm 118:26 —  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.
  • Matthew 23:39 — For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Note: In the excerpts above, the same phrase is repeated. Note that the writers of the Gospel draw from older traditions, the Hebrew texts such as the Psalms, since Jesus and his earliest followers were Jewish. That’s why the same phrase appears in both places: our Christian texts are rooted first in Jewish writings.

Day 9 of Lent: LAND

Presumably our Lenten journey is our own chance, like Jesus, to spend 40 days in the wilderness, getting lost, being challenged, doing ‘without’ in order to become more self-aware and draw closer to Godself. Today’s word is LAND, which invites us to think about the place where we find ourselves making this spiritual pilgrimage, or to consider the physical reality in which we work, play, study and live day-to-day.


Some of the text dwells on the land as the time and place where we live right now. To be sure, we are beings connected to history, geography, society and other influences.

Some passages consider how the land was stressed by overuse by its inhabitants. Later God says the land is being given into Israel’s care. Both of these passages imply an ethical need for care and conservation for creation; humans are profoundly responsible for our way of living on this earth.

Finally, Paul talks about letting go of everything else, and discovering his ‘place’ within Christ, or of finding Christ within himself. He seeks to become an inhabitant of God’s kingdom, and also finds God’s kingdom within himself.

Isn’t it interesting to consider that the site of our spiritual pilgrimage isn’t just the time and geography in which we live right now, but the mortal flesh, the human bodies, that we inhabit? We have the same ethical connection to our own bodies, as we do to the rest of creation. We’re invited to pause and realize that we’re called to care and conserve our bodies, as we do for the land.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary texts:

  • Psalm 27:13 —  I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
  • Genesis 13:5-6 — Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together.
  • Genesis 13:14-15 — The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring[a]
  • Genesis 13:17 –Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
  • Phillippians 3:12 — Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
  • Phillippians 3:8 — More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him …