Wilderness Gems

desert pictures (10)

Last week I read about the Israelites murmuring and complaining in the Book of Numbers, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Throughout Exodus and Numbers, there are many occasions when the Israelites, complain against God and sometimes suggested going back to the slavery of Egypt. Freedom and this new way of living that was lean and relies on God is almost too much for them.

The wilderness, by virtue of being in the dessert is not a place of comfort. It’s a lean place, one in which all of our faculties are tested and stretched – mental, physical, spiritual and emotional. The Israelites wondered in the wilderness for 40 years searching for the promised land, Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days being tested and tempted by Satan before beginning his public ministry. For Lent, we enter into the wilderness by fasting in hope and expectation of Easter. We simplify, we get down to some essentials, give up some luxury, addiction or harmful habit or way of being. I gave up sweets and every night after dinner my faculties are tested and stretched. I have to calm the internal uprising. No the wilderness is not an easy place and most of our wilderness seasons are far deeper than passing on dessert, seasons of loss, disappointment, failure, uncertainty and depression. I felt like I had my own personal wilderness for a few years, a time of wandering.

One of my colleagues asked, “How was God forming them in the desert?” What did the Israelites learn in the wilderness that prepared them for the Promised Land? It seemed like he is stretching them, increasing their capacity of uncertainty, inviting them to enter into a relationship of daily provision. Over and over there is crisis – no water, no food, and outbreak of serpents – and then God’s rescue. Over and over they learn their own hearts…their response when things don’t happen immediately, their way or meet their expectations. We see their impatience and hear them complain. I always want to yell at them from my vantage point, but I would have and probably done the same lament and murmuring. In their wilderness wondering they were shedding the bondage and slave mentality of their old life and preparing their being and character for the new land. They had to learn how to live daily by God’s provision, trust, how to hope, and problem solve and live in community.

In waiting, wandering and wilderness places God is doing something, he is shaping and stretching us for our future…Helping us see ourselves more clearly and know and see Him in a deeper way. In my years of wilderness, I learned how to pray, how to be still and listen to God. My patience was stretched. I learned how to care for myself, set boundaries, how to live in and rely on community. In those months and years, my character was refined, and I believe I’ve become more human, more myself. I shed some things and new things were born in me. I have a greater capacity for both joy and sorrow, to bear mystery, to see God and listen to myself and others. During Lent, often I learn what I can do without so that I can make space to feast on God and the goodness of greater simplicity.

What are you I learning in Lent that is preparing you for Easter? What have you learned in the wilderness times of your life, how did those times form you?

Speak!

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I was sitting across the table from a close friend of mine in a dimly lit restaurant. In between us wine were glasses, bowls of soup and a plate full of appetizers. Around us was the hum of constant chatter. We were continuing an ongoing discussion of how she could engage more in her work environment and personal life, to speak up and use her voice. She spoke of all of the reasons why she doesn’t speak up: she is not confident on the topic, if she feels like she won’t be heard or it won’t make a difference or she’ll be criticized. I asked her what the cost of her silence is. The price paid for silence is a piece of who she is gets lost as does what she can bring to the world. We were having this very conversation because it was beginning to cost her too much.

I was in a training the other day for women entrepreneurs. One of the biggest fears some women have, said the speaker, was the fear of failure, the fear of success, but also the fear of being seen and criticized. She said THAT is the reason why some women are afraid to start their business, to write their book, of blogging to attract business and spread their ideas, of giving trainings and teaching workshops. They are afraid of putting themselves “out there.” The cost of this fear said the speaker, are unrealized dreams, unused potential and unshared gifts. It costs us a piece of ourselves.

A few weeks ago I was at a talent show put on one evening with a group of community leaders. We were sharing our songs, poetry, words and stories. I had not come prepared to share anything. I wasn’t really afraid, I just didn’t feel like putting myself “out there.” But a poem was rolling around in my head and in my heart, the poem “Speak.” It seemed like its title was an invitation or a command maybe to do that which the poem demanded I do. I have rarely been able to resist a request to perform it. After much back and forth in my head, I decided to share my poem, my gift and little piece of myself. It was well received, people were moved and a number of people came up to me afterward saying it spoke to them. I am not sure what the cost would have been of not sharing it, but the benefit was that a few people’s hearts and minds were touched. That is priceless. Sometimes I need to hear my own words.

This year I have made a commitment to be more vocal about how I feel. I want to speak more from my heart, not just my mind. And, not only do I want my words to speak, but I want my life to speak, for me to be and share more of who I truly am. I believe there are perspectives for me to bring to the table, fruit for me to bear, visions and dreams for me to share and/or make reality and work that is mine to do. I must get about the business of finding and using my voice, sharing my gifts, speaking my truth, of living and living out loud. It simply costs too much not to, to me and to the larger world.

In the spirit of this post, here is my poem Speak

Being You and Blessing the Broken

wabi sabi

Each month, we together for a time of spiritual reflection to discuss one of our 12 rules of life. These are the values and principles that we live by in community. This month, we reflected on humility, defined in our rule as: living one’s life in perspective, in a commitment to assess and honor one’s own gifts and those of others.

I had always thought of humility as making oneself low or less, but never thought of it as honoring our own self-worth as our definition suggests. Our facilitator pointed out that the word humility originates from “humus” (earth) or being “of the earth. In this vein, maybe being humble is coming to terms with the fragility and limitations of our humanity while also realizing and accepting our gifts and those of others. I like of idea that humility allows me to just be who I am, not trying to be more or less. To know what I am and what I am not is freeing. I don’t need to put on airs or lack self-esteem. I can step up when necessary and operate in my strengths. I can recognize when I am out of my league and I can do simple things like scrubbing a toilet without feeling degraded.

During our time together, we reflected on the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi and the Beatitudes. “Wabi Sabi” embraces beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” Wabi-sabi finds the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. We had pictures of Japanese pottery with gold lined cracks. They were broken and put back together, but the cracks are what made it lovely. I recalled a walk I went on a few months back, taking pictures of things that were imperfect to find the hidden beauty in them. There was an abandoned brownstone with cracked windows and vines up and down its side, a cracked foundation with a plant growing up and out of it and then the cracks and humps in the brick sidewalk that made the landscape more interested to traverse. There was much to find that was broken, even more delightful to search for the beauty in it. Similarly, on my trip around the world, I often found the most beauty in the lowest places, like slums and orphanages or “of the earth” in the most natural landscapes. Those are the Wabi Sabi memories that I cherish, the people and conversations I had in those place are forever etched in my mind and heart. I can call them Beautiful Brokenness

Next, we read the Beatitudes to witness how God seems to bless the least, last and those who are lowly…the poor, meek and persecuted. Jesus makes it a point to be amongst those on the fringes of society. Last Monday, I heard a speaker refer to Christ as the “down low God.” A God who comes down to our level to see into us, eye to eye in relationship. He also blesses us. Likewise, our reflective assignment was to think of our own small or imperfect places and bless them. I wrote my own Beatitudes, thinking of myself, those close to me and humble people and places I encountered oversees in which their struggle was a blessing.

Blessed are those who journey, seek and search, they shall encounter God in many people, places and many times within themselves.

Blessed are the widows who care for orphans, they shall give abundantly out of their poverty.

Blessed are the children of slums, they are like treasures hidden in mines.

Blessed are those who have been deeply wounded, their wounds shall provide healing for the nations.

Blessed are those with worried and wandering minds, they shall have the one thousand opportunities to return to God.

Blessed are those who walk alone in the dark, God shall be their guidepost and companion.

Blessed are those who linger in uncertainly, they shall be invited into the mystery of God.

Blessed are those who have lost themselves and disintegrated in the unknowing, divine hands shall find them and put them back together, more whole and holy.