Day 3: 50 Easter Soul Stretches

Section: BODY

Day 3: Drink Water

“Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Revelations 22:17b)

“I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” (Jeremiah 31:25)

Coffee is brewed with water, so I try to pretend that drinking it is the same thing. The Black Hydration. The Holy Grail. But people who know about these things tell me, it’s not. When they say, “Drink water” they actually mean the clear stuff out of the sink.

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Whether you’re a water hater, or a water lover, today is the day: drink water.

In my experience, it helps to have a straw.

There’s something about a glass of plain water that says something to our hearts. It doesn’t over-stimulate our taste buds. It invites us into the wonder of simplicity. If you drink just water long enough, you can begin to detect the gentle differences in flavor. The hint of minerals. The suggestion of the ancient course this drink took to get to you. The simplest of all drinks, the base of all beverages. Sometimes it’s nice to just get to know it.

Whenever we talk about water, I think about “The Samaritan Woman.” That’s what the authors of the Bible called her. They never bothered to ask her name. To them, the title seemed to sum up everything important. It served as a giant, neon Warning Sign!

Samaritan: Hated tribe of compromising, idol worshiping, defiling half-breeds.

Woman: Lowest, unclean, dangerous.

She was an Untouchable.

Perhaps you have heard that Jews of this time would not even walk through the Samaritan land? They would go far North and around the territory, going around the long way to get to where they were going rather than get Samaritan dust on their feet.

But not Jesus.

Jesus had to go there. His spirit needed to walk straight into the heart of enemy territory. And he did it for one unloveable woman. One despised woman who was just trying to get a drink of water.

Maybe you know the story? He asks her for a drink. Then he offers her “Living Water.” They go back and forth. The woman thinks he’s talking about some kind of magical liquid. Jesus is obviously talking about a spiritual condition. The woman tries to change the subject and chat about politics. Jesus cuts through the banter and targets her soul. She is stunned. She runs to the town screaming, “Oh my GOD! Y’all have got to see this!” She brings everyone to Jesus.

The next time we see this town in scripture is after Jesus has died, resurrected, and sent his disciples out as missionaries. They walk into that little town again and the whole area experiences revival. The seed was planted. In one small woman. And a whole people group was saved. Over a glass of water.

The glass of water was never the point, was it? It was always the refreshment, the life, of the soul. As you sip your intentional H2O today, ponder your own soul. Feel out its corners. Press into its tight shadows.

Where could you use a wash of Living Water? Soul refreshment. New life. Revival.

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Day 2: 50 Easter Soul Stretches

(I’ve divided my days into sections of focus. We’re starting the first week focusing on The Body. Because it’s very loud and needy and present. Because it’s the house of our souls and part of our journey in a big way.)

Section: BODY

Day 2: STRETCH

“Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide;
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.”
(Isaiah 54:2)

Rarely do I meet people who love to stretch. My husband is a runner, and he would rather run a marathon than spend half an hour stretching his legs. Stretching, by definition, takes us past what is comfortable. Whatever the line of your natural limitation is—in your legs or in your life—stretching asks you to press into it. Which hurts. Stretching asks you to lean past your own well fixed boarder walls. Which can make you sick to your stomach. With pain. With nerves. With annoyance. Stretching asks you for more than you can give without flinching.

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It’s not by accident that we begin this daily celebration of Eastertide with stretching our bodies. But it might seem strange to you. Why are we exercising our bodies to celebrate a risen savior? It’s a very dull thing to do. Hardly glorious. Hardly triumphant! Maybe you’re thinking it isn’t spiritual enough to be an act of devotion to the Lord? Or maybe it seems self focused? Pulling our arms and legs and necks and spines into longer lines, where they may have grown cramped or tired…

I would encourage you, this week, to think about how our bodies and our spirits are connected. The Bible calls our bodies “Temples of the Holy Spirit.” Houses where God’s own presence dwells. Where we lead our physical bodies, our spirits so often follow. What a marvelously strange design. Perhaps you can meditate on this more deeply over the next week. For now…

  • Take a deep breath, and reach for the sky.
  • Lengthen along your whole body from the ground under your toes up through your fingers as they keen energetically toward the clouds.
  • Exhale and take a long, slow dive toward your toes.
  • Maybe they seem about a million miles away? Hang in there, arms like limp noodles, and gaze at those funny toes God gave you.
  • Wiggle your fingers. Nod your head gently up and down, side to side.
  • Inhale and roll your spine back up to a tall standing position.
  • Repeat a few times.
  • Feel God’s gaze on you as you move into new areas of tension. How is he looking at you? Does he smile or frown? Are you pleasing or disappointing to him? Does he scorn your limitations or is he patient with all of your progress?
  • How does the mental picture of his gaze on you line up with what you know to be true because of Jesus Christ? (That you are a chosen child. That you are beloved. That you are united with Christ.)
  • Are you believing gospel over yourself? As you find things that need stretching in your spirit, ease into new space there.

Stretching is a strange dance between discomfort and relief. There is a balance between pain and satisfaction. God often calls his people to stretch out in scripture. “Stretch out your staff,” he said to Moses. “Stretch our your hand,” he said to the leprous man. “Stand up and walk,” he said to the paralyzed man. “Go to the river and wash,” he said to the afflicted Roman. Jesus almost always incorporated the bodies of the people he healed in the process of leading them toward redemption. How strange, right? But significant.

God’s will for his people is so often discovered through the dangerous step of stretching into new things. As you stretch your body, as you feel the discomfort, as you lean into it, you do it because you know the promise of new strengths… What do we learn about stretching our lives in new directions by stretching our legs?

  • The first lunge is always the hardest.
  • It’s easier if you don’t hold your breath.
  • Gentle persistence accomplishes more than aggressive pushing.
  • You can always go a little deeper.
  • You have to celebrate where you are in the moment or you’ll never come back for more and actually make progress.
  • ((ADD YOUR OWN… Maybe in comments??))

Day 1: 50 Soul Stretches Toward Life in Easter

Easter is actually the longest season in the church calendar. But it hasn’t gained the commercial popularity of Christmas, so it tends to skip by us in a frilly, multicolored, bow-bedecked blur and then fade from our minds.

I decided, for fun, I wanted to change that. So I wrote(/am writing) one tiny “Soul Stretch” and one short paragraph to inspire your mind to meditate on God. Join in, as you can!!

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Welcome

I don’t like the phrase, “Getting closer to God.” As if God was standing far off and it was our job to inch ourselves a bit nearer. As if closeness to him rests on the strength of our will and the polish of our performance. As if, Jesus didn’t really mean it when he said that the separation between God and his beloved people “is finished.” As if the curtain separating humanity from the Holy of Holies was not, in that crucifixion moment, ripped from top to bottom by the hand of God himself.

When I hear people say (usually with a slightly shamed dip of the head), “I need to get closer to God,” I imagine what the picture in their heads might be? I imagine they see God standing at a great holy distance. Maybe seated on a high throne. Maybe robed in light. Very different from where they are. They long to be nearer. They know that this is where true joy and wholeness lies. In a way, it’s a beautiful picture. The heart yearning for its true home. In another way, it’s a sad picture. The estranged child, distant from the embrace of love.

What if we took seriously the story of Easter? That God was Emmanuel: “With Us.” That Jesus removed every single barrier and all separation. That the Holy Spirit dwells in the temple of your very body. How would the picture in your mind of where God is change if you said, “He is near me”? How would the whole texture of life change in response?

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The first step for entering the presence of God is recognizing, in a deep and meaningful way, that we are already there. There is no gap to fill. No distance to cover.

During this Easter, let’s celebrate the eternal life of Christ by finding him already impossibly close. Inhabiting the simple things of our experience.

Perhaps his promises are true? Perhaps he is nearer than near? Perhaps he is just waiting to be noticed and praised and enjoyed there? Right where he is. Redeeming and resurrecting all corners of his creation into his Kingdom Life.

How To End Hatred

Let’s not go into detail… Let’s not name names…
Let’s just say… sometimes women treat other women like absolute crap. Not accidental, unintentional crap treatment. Not sort of “sweet but actually bitchy” hurt. No. Intentional, willful, unrestrained crap treat-age. Devaluing, steam-rolling, interrupting, insulting crap dolled out in unrepentant spades.

Yesterday I caught the FULL FORCE of some of this exact brand of crap-ness.

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In that moment, my friends, I remained ever so calm. Yes I did. My voice, ever so level. My words, ever so measured. No, I did not lay down like a mat to have people wipe their feet on me. No I did not. But I was very nice about my crisis negotiating. No tempers were lost on my side of the room. No shouting. No tears. But… oh. my. goodness. when I left the situation…. exited the room… crossed the street… walked the two blocks in steady, intentional steps…….. Rage.

Rage. Wrath. Violent. A murky kind of vindictive fury and hatred that honestly surprised me with its potency. My cunning brain was flipping through ways to kill and destroy. To break and bring down. To poison and grind to a pulp.

Wow.
News flash:
My insides are a murderer.
A slaughterer of feelings. A smearer of reputations. A decimator of relationships. My deepest insides, when thoroughly shaken, yielded some incredibly silty darkness.

And, in a way, I’m not sorry.

Yet even in the midst of my unflinching fury, one BIG RESOUNDING TRUTH echoed obnoxiously in my spirit. It said…

“A break in the cycle of hatred starts with… You.”
“Non-violence starts with You.”
“Cease fire starts with You.”
“Detent starts with You.”
“Lay down your weapons… starts with You.”
“Turn the other cheek… You.”
“Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you… those ass holes… yep, also You.”

There is no time in our experience when we hate the concept of PEACE more than when it depends on us. When it depends on OTHERS… yes! Peace! Gosh! They should pursue peace! Peace is beautiful! Why all the fighting? Harmony, man! But when it depends on us… when it’s our turn to lob the ball back in the volley of wrong-doing… when it’s our turn to take a gut punch shot…. we want to take it. When it’s on us to lay down contempt, scorn, scowling eyes, and smirking mouth… when it’s on us to choose to love… That, we’re not so fond of. That sucks.

I say this to commiserate and also to exhort…. We Are Where All Hatred Comes To Die.

We are the people who say, “This far, and no further.”

We are the end of rage.

If only we will surrender it. If only we will lay it down, take our hands off our right, and choose peace.

In a world rife with turmoil…. remember….

You are the place where hatred can cease.

Marriage and Magnets: The Dance

Yearning is strange right? It’s the crave that flames in our bellies when we hear stories of backpacking in the desert or birthing a child or emerging from grief with glorious stitches where the horrible rips once were. When we see the stories of gutting and risk and victory in others, we feel it. We feel a pull toward wild life. Full life. More. But also solidity. Place. Conclusions. The end of people’s stories include both the falling apart, the knitting together, and the final messy product. Yearning is the lust for all of those stages distilled into one potent shot of hard soul liquor.

Yearning wants to be both wildly adventurous and incredibly safe. It wants to be flying into the wind of the fire. But also ensconced in the tender mercies of sweatpants and elastic waist bands. It wants to be satisfied with the richest things, the sexiest sex. It wants to be unsatisfied. Because longing is lovely. It’s tea and whiskey. But never mixed.

We bring this duality into all of our relationships, I think, but especially our marriages. Someone once told me, “You are the kite, and he is the string.” We fill little rolls we never meant to fill, or expected to be. We pull against each other. We come home to each other. It is an endless dance. I am the bird, and he is the nest. Somehow we are one, but only in opposite directions. We drive each other totally nuts.

I believe two things about marriage: That it is forever, and that it will always be a little uncomfortable. It’s the interplay that opposing magnets do in the hands of curious children. They’re held together firmly by the twin impulses of resolve and revelation. But they’ll always be resisting. Resisting in that strange, invisible way that two incredibly unique people could never possibly be one thing. This is the balance.

These are ancient thoughts that many minds have thought before. For me, though, they feel fresh in this moment. It feels like a revelation that I could enter into the dance with this stubborn old man, and that the point of it all is the “marriage” between resistance and togetherness. The point of it all is the friction. The tension between two. The yearning… for better, for more, for less, for now, for then. We hold it all incarnate between ourselves. And as long as we don’t put it down, we birth something new.

That’s all… I’m just thinking about it. Balance. Yearning. Imbalance. My magnet tries to fly off to the left, and his magnet yanks me back to the right. His magnet tries to stay exactly in one place forever, and my magnet pushes him backward off the table. And yet in all the push and pull, there is an innate sense that these two things are destined to grapple together with their stories. One magnet alone is nothing. A moon without a sun or sea. It’s the trinitarian unity that brings things to life.

And, I don’t have a conclusion today. Only a few thoughts that wanted to live on paper. Only a rough draft… the fraction of the story where the person is wandering in the mohave desert.

 

Two Sleepless Poems

More poetry. Just a vehicle by which I try to quell and calm and tame the constant restless energy.

#1 
There is no steadiness in me;
No space between the blisterings.
The hot ones and the cold.
I am often very much,
And too much for myself,
And there is not enough of me
To sustain it, so
There is electricity
Calicoed with light,
Stitched to square squares of sackcloth stained
With too much coffee
and the ashes of Job.
Alternating pieces separated and joined
By sharp plunging;
A rocking horse stitch, leading
Time’s thread of constancy,
Marching over my own warp and weft.

 

#2
I believe in cats but also carpe diem.
I believe in stillness that holds
madness
in its gentle claws,
And needles a warning
if the running runs wild.
Because
We are only on today. Tonight. Whatever.
But we can stillify the race
with pens that skitter over pages;
With herbal concoctions couched
in couch-confined crosslegs.
We can slowify our breath,
Our breathing
And breathe,
And be
With the cat who presses madness
under massaging paws.

Gospel Hope for Mood Disorder

“God wants us to know that he keeps us equally safe in joy and in sorrow, and loves us as much in sorrow as in joy. … Our Lord sometimes allows us to be in sorrow and both come from one love.” — Julian of Norwich

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This is the pattern:

I begin to feel desperately sad in every cell of my body, so I fumble for why… What could it be? Am I doing something wrong? Am I good enough? Do I belong? Am I loved? Am I where I’m supposed to be? Am I doing what I’m supposed to do? And if I am, why am I so grief stricken?

If I feel so lost and in despair, surely something it broken. Duh. Where is it? Let me at it! I pummel the darkness, feeling with brave fingers for a solid thing to put my hands around. I’ll fix it. I will. If I can fix it, I can un-sad myself.

I grasp for some new crack to patch. To make it right. To make me safe. To make me secure. To make me know, even if my insides say otherwise, that it is all going to be ok.

But every time, this pattern fails me. Like clock work.

My mind churns. My dissatisfaction grows. I hunt for the weak link. I look for it in myself. I look for it in those around me. I grow irritable with my people. I grow merciless with myself. I weigh myself down with the busyness of mending what seems so mysteriously broken. I grasp onto too many things. Take a job, sign up for a roll, begin a task, join a gym, try a project, make a new friend, practice a discipline, slow down, speed up, scramble for hope. Each avenue offers possibility. The possibility of wellness.

After a time, I find that the things I grasped, hoping to heal my desperation, have turned into new kinds of burdens, rather than sweet liberation.

What looked like an anchor of hope in a fretful emotional sea, can so often turn out to be a mill-stone around the neck.

Side roads with flashing arrows promising “Relief!” to the weary heart can so quickly prove to be muddy byways that suck at weary ankles. Adding weight to the weighed down.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination; calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting!” Isn’t the flavor of possibility just intoxicatingly sweet? A harsh and bracing cry that puts wind under our wings and lures us into the crisp sky! I have flown a million miles chasing that breeze. Looking for my place in the family of things. Thinking, each time, that a steady place might save me from the misery that wants to live within myself.

But the reality of sadness always rises again. The inevitable tides of depression come again. And again and again. Their black waters persistently inch over tender ground I’ve claimed for myself; consuming the harvests I planted in hope.

This is what it looks like to have a clinical mood disorder. It colors everything. Our feelings, our sense of hope, our sense of purpose and orientation and community and identity. Everything is compromised by this sneaky cancer of irregular moods. It’s a living and breathing kind of hell to know that how you feel has no basis in reality.

I have only found one answer. Or, really, it found me.

It. Is. Well.

It is well.

It is well with my soul.

It is. It’s already the truth. I just have to sink into it with a kind of liberal abandon.

When all around my soul gives way. It is well.

Laid down in green pastures. Restored in soul, if weak in body.

It is well.

 

My body chemistry is broken. It slips and slides into the wildest sort of despair, for absolutely no reason. My insides are wildly turbulent and rangy and slippery and grim. My internal weather is scared of its own shadow; and if it can’t see its shadow, it’s terrified it lost it forever. A constant cycle of certainty that all is doomed.

But it is well.

It is well.

It is well with my soul.

It’s already well.

Only when I begin to put down all the scattered, tattered pieces I have fumbled to stuff into my life, hoping to patch holes I can’t really find and restore balance I never really had… only when I say, “It is well,” do I begin to rest in the arms of Love.

God’s invitation has always been to come at your grimmest and bleakest and lay down under the soft feathers of his mama hen’s heart, and be at peace. No matter the circumstances. Even if the circumstances live inside your soul.

Enter in.

Rest yourself.

Surrender to love.

Love has made a home for you here which does not depend on you or anything you scramble to stuff into the holes and cracks and crannies.

Stop with the scrambling, the panic, the guilt, the fear.

He said, “It is finished.”

He said, “I am the way.”

He said, “I never leave the lost lamb to languish on the hillside alone. You are mine. Bought at a price. Nothing shall separate you from love.”

It is well.

Today. Now. Forever. Already. Well.

How to Enjoy Haggard Days

At a certain point in almost every day, I’m not sure why.

I’m not sure why we keep doing these things over and over. Over and over. So insistently. Waking up and feeding ourselves and consuming consuming consuming. And showering endlessly. I remember the words of Sylvia Plath, who, in a great depression, bemoaned the need to bathe… “I want to do things once and be done with them forever.”

But that is not the cadence of things.
It is not the tempo of life to perform once the necessary task and move on to more important things.
You get the feeling that the little things were always the more important things all along.

Why, God, are we repeating people? Cyclic and tidal and stationary. Endlessly in need of some kind of little caring here or there.

Why, God, did you give us bodies for houses? Inefficient, whiney, creaky, grouchy bodies. Bodies with back aches and inhaling/exhaling forever to survive. Requiring fuel. Requiring rest. Requiring washing and loving and looking at. Requiring requiring requiring.

And you called them the temples of your presence.

The great liturgical mystery of existence carries in it the secret of joy, I think. That we are to wonder and wander in the sameness. Our inclinations will always be to wander and discover! To unearth a new thing that will solve and solution us. And that is a beautiful thing. But also that we are to make a home here. In the sameness. In the wandering. In the never getting very far at all. To make a home examining the mysteries hidden in plain (very very plain) sight… that’s somehow the magical gift that gives meaning.

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Ecclesiastes has endlessly disoriented people because of a strange translation… it says in most Bibles, “Everything is meaningless” or “Everything is vanity.” Several Rabbis have taught that it ought to read, “Everything is transient.” Every little thing.
The last meal you ate.
The skin you wear.
The longing that seems to be the most meaningful thing now.
Everything is passing us by.

It should make us a little sad. It should! Death lives within the fabric of our existence, much more closely than we usually pause to appreciate. But it should also make us gaze deeper and gasp in delight. The author of Ecclesiastes says, at the end of all his examining of the things that drive people in this life (wisdom and wealth and pleasure and acclaim and religion) and he draws one simple conclusion: “Enjoy your life.” Everything is transient. Enjoy your life. In temperance and consideration. In awe.

At a certain point in each day, it feels harder than usual to enjoy life. I find this is a great moment to slow down. To see with new eyes that are a little less judgmental. I feel the goodness of the things all around me. The sounds of boys and birds and bugs and blossoms. The happy messes that color my world.

I hope you invite ease into your sore places. Maybe on the back of a long inhale or a gentle exhale. I hope you agree with yourself to Enjoy.

Especially on those haggard afternoon moments when everything is going sideways.

Three Wee Poems

A Kind of Salvation
Be saved, O my soul
from the sinking down.
From the even bigger fall into the shadow valley.
Be at naps, O my soul, a professional
and forget not all their benefits.
They are God’s hands; God’s own
Rest. And they are good.
Be not proud, O my soul, and full of it;
The certainty of unshakeable muchness.
Be small, O my soul
and surrendered
and handled
and pliable
and slower than your slowest breath.
Give up, O my soul
At least for a moment
yielded, O my soul, to the great salvation
The one with the pillows
And the mercy seat.

 

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Remember to breathe.
And water the plant; parched,
Poor thing. Forgotten.
And pet the cat.
Time is enough
For
slow
things.
Hold me. The moments.
One moment
In a skittering manic million
Be still.
Know the little knowings
Bit. By. Bit.
Inhale the mist of Love’s name.
Exhale.
Repeat.

 

Goodmorning Cat
The liquid swirl of cat tail on carbon;
tenderness on bone; this brush
is a whisper incarnate.
This is the stillness of a new earth’s inhale
This 5 am
This hello nod during the early service.
This shared liturgy of scoop and brew and pour and sip,
but first the pause, the promise,
the Lord be with you. And with your spirit.
The silent paw pads passing peace
with a flick.

Things I write when I’m a wee bit mad…

ONE
It still feels like slamming hard into a wall out of nowhere… even though I’m sure I’ve been laying the bricks for a long time. The bricks of sleeplessness, too much smiling, a lack of solitude. These are luxuries to the sane. They are oxygen to the struggling. The anxious, the moody, the manic.

It’s a shocking thing to suddenly collide with your own limitations.

Who put that there?

My 3 year old has been clamoring over me, screaming like an enraged baboon. Suddenly, very suddenly, and very completely, my resources were depleted. Not just the first wave resources. No. The deep, deep. The neurological, cellular resources. My body slammed to a halt. I instantly got dizzy. Everything went cold and weak. Everything went blank and self-preserving.

This is the edge of the earth… the place where all things drop off into empty space…

Surprise.

 

TWO
Cheese is really just a well controlled kind of chaos. A bacterial dance. A death march. A tug of war between life and loss. Death to dairy and life to the ravaging hoard of hungry microbes. What a strange delicacy. And it is an incorruptible truth of the universe that without it the world would be a worser place.

My experience of bipolar illness has made my life a kind of cheese cocktail of dying inside and bristling to an electric life on the very ground of my own despair. Like a mushroom that sprouts on a fallen log… I am both the oak-fallen, laid low, and the fungus rising out of the ground of my own unsteady story.

I am both life and death in myself. The many pieces rarely in harmony, but always in unity with each other. One whole person.

It’s taken me 30 years to realize that can be beautiful… the living and dying woven together so intimately. Like cheese. A strange delicacy.