Beauty, Joy, Self-Care, and Passion
Beauty, joy, self-care, and passion.
In my somewhat cobbled-together vocation as theological-question-fielder, the closest I get to a tagline is that I always have responses, but only rarely answers.
It seems to me that all too often the Church has offered up glib or pat explanations to complex issues, inquiries, doubts, and plain old wonderings, as if unanimous and uniform solutions stand at the ready every single time, or that clear answers are good things, and necessary, or mandated, even.
Ironically, that’s partly how the church has lost some credibility: life is messy, and theology (which has everything to do with life) can surely be too—which, for someone who is systematic about nothing other than her theology and puzzle strategies, is really grating, not going to lie.
Even if with the best of intentions, leading people into the illusion that neither life nor theology is…complicated…discredits both lived experience and lived faith.
Instead, trust is generated when truth is uttered.
And frustratingly, on occasion, the closest we can get to truth is to acknowledge that honestly, we haven’t a clue.
We just don’t always know for sure, and in fact nobody always knows for sure, and there you have it.
But still and even so, a person can give a whirl thinking through a handful of takes, of perspectives, of competing truths that can be shaken out, sorted out, tested out.
And despite everything I just said, sometimes, sometimes it is, in fact, possible to give something closer to an answer than a response.
Case in point?
Beauty, joy, self-care, and passion.
I’ve come to see that questions are a bit like a barometer: the more that similar questions are posed in various contextual cross-sections, the better sense I have of what’s causing across-the-board pressure in people’s minds, spirits, lives, and worlds.
These days, I’m being asked no question more than some version of this: “How do we fight the despair that is everywhere and overtaking us all?”
Matters not whether people come to the Spent Dandelion, book a convo via OMG, sit in an audience after I’ve given a presentation, or organize an occasion for me to present: time and again, some version of that question surfaces: “How do we fight the despair that is everywhere and overtaking us all?”
It’s a good question.
It’s a pressing question.
And it’s a question that has a shot at an answer, and here it is:
Saturate yourself in beauty, joy, self-care, and passion.
I’m not saying it is an easy answer.
And I’m not saying that it can be done immediately or consistently.
But I am saying that each in their own ways, beauty, joy, self-care, and passion defy death.
And what are Christians inherently about, more than defying death?
My late husband and I were utterly broke for most of our marriage.
But early on, we decided that art mattered.
By ‘art’ we meant works created by people whom we knew, whom we admired, whom we saw exhibited in person, and which in one way or another touched us.
Same with music: we opted to see as much live music as we could, and purchase what we liked so it would be at the ready in our ears when we wanted to hear rather than hum the tune.
And good food—didn’t need to be gourmet-quality, and didn’t need to be enjoyed at some out-priced restaurant, or even any restaurant, but it did need to be good. We loved to go out, we loved to cook in, we loved to make a simple table or a simple plate simply elegant.
And for all of this delight in art and music and food, we were willing to pay for it, broke as we were, because we saw it as a form of stewardship, of honoring God’s intentions to honor art and music and good food, as well as the artists and musicians and farmers and chefs who made it.
I still have the artwork from those days on my wall, I still have our purchased music and memories of the concerts, and I still find his ultra-precise handwriting in my cookbooks with comments of what worked, what didn’t, and proud menus from surprise birthday dinners he whipped up for me to be enjoyed on a sunny Spring day on a balcony in Germany.
I still, that is, have that beauty from before around me, and I intentionally add to it every day: new pictures, new music, new food, and all the more these days the beauty of forests, and the big lake, and a fire crackling in the stove.
Doesn’t need to be fancy, that is.
Yesterday, my son—the one who wasn’t supposed to live?—registered to vote.
How impossibly cool is that?
And this morning, Karl and I drove my daughter down to Duluth in the dark of the 5:00 a.m. morning so that she could catch her bus en route to her speech team tournament.
We live where there are few lights, and so walking/rolling out the door to be bathed in black and sparkling white, well….it takes very little to convince me that there is far more deep dark night and heaps more bright flickering stars where we live than anywhere else in the world.
Me looking at the vastness and wonder of it all in the brisk pre-dawn made us just a tish late, I must own.
And on the way home from bringing Else to her jam, Karl—all cozy-bundled up in a blanket in the back—and I listened to Daniel Hope’s (albeit here unfortunately abbreviated) I Giorni, a song that resonates with me so powerfully that were you to put who I am to music, I do believe that this very tune would play.
As we listened to it, the small stars faded as the large star began to faintly brighten the sky over the Big Lake, and my eyes got wet with the peaceful joy of it all.
Joy can be exuberant, of course. You should have seen my son’s face once we got the paperwork done for his vote—and the huge grin he splayed when he said in his slow but determined speech to his politically active 16-year old sister, “Neener, neener, I can vote and you’re still too young!”—and her wide grin right back at him as she gave him a high-five in congrats.
But it can also be quiet.
I was recently reminded that the late theologian Leland Erhard, who was my pastoral care prof at seminary, defined bliss as “the place of no ‘oughts.’”
Joy, I do believe, is the same—no oughts, just unbridled contentment, gladness, and gratitude.
The boy who almost died can vote.
My girl has found her Thing.
The stars are free, falling, and rising right before my eyes.
And I am filled with joy.
As some of you know, these last few months have been a bit of a schlepp with some health concerns for my boy.
And as all of you know, these last few months have been a bit of a schlepp with some health concerns for our nation.
It’s been a stressful few weeks.
Thankfully, bit by bit the sun has been waking up a little earlier and going to sleep a little later, and I’ve been able to take the hounds out for a romp in our woods once, twice, sometimes three times a day.
The fresh air and the quiet has calmed me.
I’ve also bought seeds.
A lot of seeds.
Short of onions, it’s a bit too early to plant any of them in starter trays, but ordering them from my favorite catalog was an act of hope and defiance.
Also, I’ve napped.
Every day, as a matter of fact.
Doesn’t take much—just a 15 minute snooze, sometimes with or without two huge dogs piled on me who are very much not lap dogs but are very much nap dogs.
The rest has re-calibrated, re-claimed, and re-energized me.
Walks in woods. Seeds in boxes. Naps on couches.
Seriously all signs of the reign of God, all restore me to live more fully and purposefully in the reign of God, and each one in its own way rejects the desecration of the earth, the creeping despair for the future, and the illusion and anxiety and in fact arrogance of the notion that there is always more that must be done and that without me it won’t happen.
The word ‘passion’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to suffer.’
Anyone who has been in love can see the sense of that: if you care about something or someone, you are passionate about it.
You love it or them so much you are willing even to suffer.
It might seem obvious, but it’s worth naming that a person can’t apathetically care.
If you care, if you love, you necessarily invest yourself in whatever, or whomever, it is.
If you say, that is, that you are passionately in love with your partner, then that is reflected in the way that you treat your partner, and the extent to which you enter into a shared life together.
If you say that you are passionately patriotic, then that’s reflected in the way you treat your country—not just your part of it, but the entire country and its founding principles—and the extent to which you engage it to make it better.
If you say that you are passionately a Christian, then that’s reflected in the way that you treat others and yourself in the name of your God, and the extent to which you live consistently out of your faith claims.
As for me, my children—I am passionate about nothing more than my children.
And politics, which so powerfully affect the poor, the sick, the young, the disabled, the oppressed, the outcasts—I am passionate about politics.
And my faith, which informs both how I parent and how (and why) I politic—I am passionate about my faith and the implications of it.
Take it from me: your passions will drive you to sacrifice your time, your money, your priorities, your momentary balance even.
But life is worth living.
And life is worth making it livable for others.
So sure, life takes love, and life takes suffering.
A life well lived takes, that is, passion.
But take this also from me: the more passionate you are, the more alive you feel.
In related news, I’m one very alive woman.
We’re approaching the advent of Lent.
It’s a season that all too often has been dedicated to habits of the parched, of the sparse, of the self-sacrificial.
Never been a fan of that, to be honest.
It seems, when liturgically bounded by 40 days, to be a bit like a religious role-play, a tokenized effort.
I do, though, value the intentional opportunity to stop and notice the habits of our faith and our life, with the hope that Lent inspires us to do Lent all year long.
I wonder if we could do Lent the way that Luther did the Catechisms: don’t do this…and do do this.
And if we were to try that, perhaps we’d both own the validity for the question I’m hearing so often these days, and discover an antidote to the angst within it.
Let’s give up scarcity for Lent.
Let’s give up moroseness for Lent.
Let’s give up emotional flagellation for Lent.
Let’s give up apathy for Lent.
We’ve got that going on every day in countless ways all year long, and all the more for all the more people since January 20, 2017.
Instead, let’s see and extend beauty.
Let’s discover and share joy.
Let’s invest in our well-being with neither guilt nor shame.
Let’s passionately foster all that which most closely resembles the reign of God.
So, specifically, buy some local art.
Download some new music.
For that matter, make some art.
Make some music.
Make some feasts.
Make some love.
Walk in the woods.
Welcome people to your home.
Leave an anonymous present on a street corner.
Shut the door and take a righteous nap.
Ask someone on a date.
Say yes when asked on a date.
Take your lover out for a surprise date.
Take your friend out for a surprise meal.
Take yourself out for a surprise meal.
Listen to comedy.
Buy a bouquet for yourself.
Buy a bouquet for someone you can’t stand.
Plant some herbs for your kitchen.
Pay for the groceries for the person behind you.
Wake up early and go look at the stars.
Whip up some homemade cocoa and share it.
Register people to vote.
Volunteer with a campaign.
Donate to campaigns.
Go to a protest.
Sign a petition.
Sign up for advocacy updates.
Post a political point instead of a cat video.
Resist, that is, with beauty, joy, self care, and passion.
These are not trite suggestions: they are mini-forms of defying despair and of the in-breaking of the reign of God, and they are mini-promises that death is real, but life is real-er.
It is always worth the reminder that the word ‘Lent’ means ‘spring.’
It’s the season that bursts with the promise not of death but of life.
You can’t resist it: the days do get longer, the snows do melt, the green blades do rise.
And so how do we fight the despair that is everywhere and overtaking us all?
Be the reign of God.
For God is nothing if not the God of beauty, and joy, and passion.
And God cares deeply about you.
So should you.