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This meditation was originally given on Wednesday, March 9th, at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN for the second week of Lent. The video of the midweek service may be viewed here.
MEDITATION TEXT // Psalm 23:2-3
God, my Shepherd, leads me to rest in green pastures,
and along quiet waters. She restores my soul.
She guides me along righteous paths for Her Name's sake.
A few years ago, a friend invited me to a yoga and singing retreat in Chacala Mexico. She is an Obstetrician, and after hearing my traumatic birth story, which resulted in an emergency hysterectomy, the loss of the future I’d dreamed for myself, and a broken relationship with my very own body, she decided I needed -- or rather, that I deserved -- the restoration of a place like Mar de Jade. And so she paid my way to join her and about 15 other women at a retreat center on the Pacific that caters not to tourists, but rather cares for those who seeking healing. That week I was taught how to find and use my full voice, from grounded mama to tender listener; I was shown the way simple movements can open my body to healing I didn’t know I needed. And I feasted on meals full of fruits and vegetables grown by people who love and are in communion with the land, which were turned into nourishment by a kitchen staff whose aim was not merely to stuff us but to heal us with food.
On my second or third day, our yoga instructor taught me some breathing exercises that remind the body to release tension, anger, fear, and grief, and invited me to listen to my body and try to reconnect with it. She understood that my hysterectomy had cut me off from my life-giving self; that I felt like a living death. And to heal, I would need to open up and meet myself with love and tenderness in those empty spaces that mourn. Not much later, my singing teacher invited me to play. “Music?” I asked? I thought maybe she wanted me to play one of my songs for the group. But she said, “No. I want you to run….frolic on the beach…play in the water like a little kid. Connect with 5 year old Amy. Jump, spin, get in that water and see how it cradles you and tosses you and tackles you and holds you. Play!”
I felt like an absolute fool of course, even contemplating the invitation -- I am after all, a grown woman; I am very serious; my work is very important! My grief is heavy and I do not have time or energy or space for silliness! But I did it. And by the fourth day, I spent an entire afternoon running up and down the beach doing cartwheels until I got dizzy and fell over, and I did not care who saw me. I was a little girl, playing.
My fourth day was the day I got down to business.
I cradled my belly in my hands and I wept for her. I spoke tenderly to my ovaries, thanking them through tears for continuing to produce hormones, for releasing eggs into the void that is my womb-less center. I cried and asked forgiveness for punishing my own body for her loss, for condemning the folds of skin that protect what’s left inside me so each piece can keep doing their part despite that such an important piece of the whole is missing. For the first time since my hysterectomy, I was ready and able to look my naked self in the mirror and love her fully for all she has done, for all she has lost, for all she’s survived, and for all she still has to give and do. On the seventh day, I returned home to my family, a little less broken, a little more healed, and feeling restored… I was ready to hear and follow a call to seminary.
You might be wondering what this all has to do with the 23rd Psalm? And the answer, I think, is Everything.
We live in a world where stress, pain, fear, and loss constantly beg our attention and action. We are surrounded by illness, plague, poverty and powerlessness, by social upheaval and climate chaos, by war, death and destruction, and by powers that demand we obey them “or else.” And there sometimes seems no way out from under the weight of all that is, except to follow the lead of hopelessness, brokenness, and fear.
And yet, here we meet the Good Shepherd who, like my teachers in Mexico, demands nothing from us, but instead offers an invitation -- first to rest, to frolic and play, to lie down and be fed in green pastures; to splash and swim in and drink from still waters. And only then, after our soul is restored, Good Shepherd invites us to follow onto paths of righteousness.
What I know of such an offer is this: If we skip the invitation to play, to revel in joy, to be refreshed and restored, and instead jump directly onto paths of righteousness, we will burn out. It is unsustainable.
But we who are rested and refreshed are also ready for the long haul of justice. We have deep wells to draw from within ourselves and each other when righteousness demands action. Our relationship to God, self, others, and earth is singular and sturdy; and that wholeness and rootedness becomes our compass when walking through the valley of the shadow of death; it is the source of radical joy that lets us feast even in the company of our enemies.
These are perilous times, as all times are. And there are near infinite leaders who would command our fear and scare us into following them down paths for their own name’s sake. But it is only Christ, our Good Shepherd, who promises that paths of righteousness begin at the place of our healing and restoration, and invites us not just to follow, but to first be made whole. Amen.
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