Easter Week for stoics (Why I love Jesus but I’m kind of meh about Easter)

I have a confession to make about Easter . . . Each year, it brings up some uncomfortable feelings for me. You see, on the personality scale between pragmatic and emotional, I’m way over on the boring end of the bell curve. I tend to be a very logical, calculated person. I don’t like schmaltzy love songs or romantic movies or grand gestures. I make decisions with my head and not my heart. I would prefer a committed and steady relationship to an impassionate love affair. I like the practical. I like lists. I like analyzing and understanding. And while I’m not a completely emotionless person, I don’t like anything that makes me feel like I’m supposed to feel something. My radar for emotional manipulation has a baseline of cynicism. You are not the boss of my relationship, Valentine’s Day. Maybe I am swelled with romantic feelings on October 11th and not on the day the calendar has chosen for me! My emotions will not be dictated by the calendar!! (Seriously. I think these thoughts.) I’ve always been this way with my faith as well, in part because I was raised in a protestant denomination that espoused the values of spontaneity in worship. We didn’t follow a liturgical calendar, because that was too hemmed-in and not allowing for God to modify things along the way. We were discouraged from saying rote prayers because God wanted to hear our real, made-up words from our heart. We didn’t give things up for Lent because our devotion is not about the calendar, but should be a year-round practice. Of course, I now recognize that there was some inherent legalism in this system as well . . . but some of those values are still engrained. Enter Easter, and the lead-up to it that starts with Lent. It seems like everywhere I look, faithful Christian friends (protestant and Catholic alike) are talking about what they are giving up for Lent in an effort to prepare their hearts for Easter. I’ve seen people declining invitations or reducing their schedules so that they can try to be more present with God as the prepare for Easter. I watch it with ambivalence, because while this is clearly something that resonates with them, the idea of forcing myself to enter into a certain mindset because of the date on the calendar just doesn’t jive with my personality. Then there are the Easter services at church. And here’s the part where I’m going to sound really sacrilegious but you know what? I’m going there, because maybe I’m not alone and maybe some of us can create some kind of Easter support group for stoics. Because I’m always a little cringey about Easter services. First there is the Good Friday service, where inevitably at my church there is a very somber and artistic and emotional service about the depravity of man and the death of Christ. And look . . . don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the sacrifice of the cross. I’m in. I get it. But I don’t like feeling like on this particular day of the year I need to FEEL IT DOWN TO MY BONES. Can’t I just carry a quiet gratitude in my heart all year? At Good Friday service I feel like I’m supposed to being reminded anew and experience the grief all over again, but I just struggle to put myself in that place. I usually sit in service feeling like, “Wow. I guess I’m supposed to cry right now? But I already know this story and that it has a happy ending. So why should I be maudlin right now and wait until Sunday morning to celebrate? Why do I need to Feel All Of The Feels right now?” Good Friday usually leaves me feeling a mix of shame about my lack of emotional response and a feeling of rebellion that the church calendar is requiring that NOW is the moment that I sit with the death and resurrection of Christ, when truthfully? I’d rather just quietly sit with that knowledge every day in a more subtle and less dramatic way. And then we’ve got Sunday morning, which is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, which again, I BELIEVE IN AND AM GRATEFUL FOR, but these services are still confounding to me. I’m so cool with celebrating Jesus every Sunday. And every day for that matter. But Easter just feels like I’ve got to act like this is all new information. HE IS ALIVE! Yeah, and he was alive yesterday. And last Easter when we had a very similar service and message. HE IS RISEN! I know. That happened a long time ago. We all already know this, right? Except for the newbies who probably think we are insane for shouting this at each other. You guys . . . I know. I’m terrible. I’m just sharing what goes through my head. I cannot seem to put myself into the headspace that other people are finding for Easter. I’m not built that way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling for an end to Easter celebrations. I know they are really meaningful to a lot of people. I get that catering to stoics wouldn’t make for a great service. “Jesus died and rose again . . . yada yada yada . . . feel how you want to feel today and try to make logical decisions based on this knowledge as you interact with the world every day of the year.”  That’s not going to be very inspiring to most folks. And in the midst of it, there are moments were I really DO feel a swell of emotion. Our church does baptisms on Easter and those actually do make me well up, legitimately. Sometimes I get caught up in the celebration and the music. But other times, if I’m totally honest, I feel like I’m being pressured to feel and respond in a way that doesn’t come naturally for me. I can’t muster up more energy around my faith because it is a certain time of year. I know this about myself. I just don’t operate that way. I am learning to let it go and to be okay with who I am and the slow and steady (and stoic) pace of my spiritual walk. Any other stoics out there? Can I get an “amen”?  (But only quietly and if you feel truly moved to say it, of course.)

Two prayers for Labor Day

Yesterday our church led the congregation in two prayers for Labor Day. I will be honest – I have never given a lot of thought to Labor Day, and I’ve certainly never thought of it in a Christian framework. But I appreciated these prayers, and the way they made me contemplate justice as it pertains to labor issues. I thought you might appreciate them too. A Prayer for Labor Sunday God, help us to build a new world in the midst of the old. A world where all worker are valued. A world where those who clean houses are able to buy houses to live in. A world where those who grow food and afford to eat their fill. We pray for the coming of a world where all workers everywhere share in the abundance that you have given us. We ask these things knowing that you give us the courage and strength to live out our faith in the workplace and in the marketplace, as well as in the sanctuary. Laboring God, as you labor with us, may we labor for you, ever committed to do your world in the world. Amen.

written by Edi Rasell  

God, help us to build a new world in the midst of the old. A world where all worker are valued. A world where those who clean houses are able to buy houses to live in. A world where those who grow food and afford to eat their fill. We pray for the coming of a world where all workers everywhere share in the abundance that you have given us. We ask these things knowing that you give us the courage and strength to live out our faith in the workplace and in the marketplace, as well as in the sanctuary. A Prayer of Confession We are workers, God, just like you. But we confess that our work is not always done in a manner that affirms and honors each other. Our work is not always done in a spirit that is pleasing t you. We confess that, on some occasions, e have blindly bought goods made by people who are paid too little or work in unsafe conditions. We admit that we have failed to end an unjust system in which some workers have jobs that provide good wages, health insurance, sick leave, a pension, paid vacations, and other benefits, while others have jobs that do not. Merciful God, forgive us. Help us this Labor Day, to work for justice and build a new world where all people share in the abundance you have given us. Amen.

written by Kimmberly Calytor

Family Dinner Traditions: prayer and meditation (and some Christian and secular mealtime prayers)

This week, as many of us are gearing up to get back into the routine of school, I thought I would share a bit about our quest to develop good dinnertime traditions.  We fell off the wagon a bit this summer, and we’re really trying to get back into the routine of not only eating together at the table together, but of making use of the time as a family bonding experience. Dinners with four small kids can be hectic, and sometimes it feels like more work than it’s worth. But this is one of those long-haul practices. I’m hoping the time I’m putting in now to develop mutual enjoyable family meals will mean they will want to come back to them as adults.

We are trying to develop habits that are meaningful. Over the next few days I’m going to talk about some of them: lighting candles for others, table talk, keeping a gratitude journal, the manners candle, and reading. But today I want to talk about our first ritual: prayer. Starting meal with a prayer is a pretty common tradition. I like it because it makes us pause to be thankful, and also signifies the beginning of the meal. With four hungry and impatient kids, it’s nice to have that ritual to signify when it’s time to eat (and when it isn’t).  I feel like it sets the tone for the meal. We usually have our children pray spontaneously. That is a part of our faith tradition. But there are some nice rote prayers that you could use if you prefer more structure. This is a simple, casual prayer for mealtimes that is easy for children to memorize:

For food that stays our hunger, For rest that brings us ease, For homes where memories linger, We give our thanks for these.

Another alternative suitable for children:

Thank you for the world so sweet, Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing, Thank you God for everything.

If you aren’t the praying type, you could always recite a short meditation. A classic humanist alternative to a Christian prayer is this meditation from the humanist writer Nicolas Walter:

Let us think thrice while we are gathering here for this meal. First, let us think of the people we are with today, and make the most of the pleasure of sharing food and drink together. Then, let us think of the people who made the food and drink and brought it to us, who serve us and wait on us, and who clear up and clean up after us. Finally, let us think of all the people all over the world, members with us in the human family, who will not have a meal today.

For something shorter that children could memorize, here is a nice Buddhist meal gatha:

We receive this food in gratitude to all beings Who have helped to bring it to our table, And vow to respond in turn to those in need With wisdom and compassion.

Do you have a prayer or meditation when you begin a meal?

Women Helping Women

The Women’s Program of Heartline Haiti is all about teaching women to care for their babies and find industry and self-care for themselves. They assist in prenatal and parenting classes, and teach women a trade, like sewing or crocheting purses. Here is a story about one of the women in their program:

Today was one of those days when the women’s program did its job. It worked. I don’t know how the end result will turn out but I saw women surrounding one of their own and coming to her aid with what they have learned. In our program we have two groups. Prenatal; and then Child Development after the baby is born. A young girl Chelor (pronounced She-Love) has been coming on and off since she was pregnant. She lives in a hostile situation where she is clearly not welcome, neither is her baby. Her breast feeding efforts have not been going well and they claim her baby is cursed. She wants to go back to the village because she has no where else to go.Chelor is just a young girl who does not know how to be a mom and does not do well processing the information we give her. Her baby, Love Kendy, has gained little weight since his birth three months ago and he is failing to thrive. Everyone is frustrated. We try encouraging her, showing her how to hold the baby and so on. She is not getting it and he is not getting the milk he needs to thrive.

Today was heartbreaking. She would put him to the breast for just seconds, he would fuss, she would be agitated, he would cry. They just weren’t a team – weren’t working together for the milk to flow.Several experienced breast feeding moms gathered around Chelor and helped her position the baby. It wasn’t working. Another mom took the baby, put him to her breast and fed him. For a long time. It may be the only real meal the child has received. Ever. Wet-nursing mom showed Chelor how effortless and stress free this should be. All moms were giving opinion, encouragement and we gathered around Chelor to pray God’s protection around her.

This young girl is steeped in superstition, believes in curses, is too stressed out to feed her baby who is also stressed and pulling away from her. It is a dire situation. I hope and pray we helped her today. I cried because of how bad Chelor’s situation is and I also cried because I saw women gather around her and function as a women’s group – all helping another hurting woman. That’s how this program is supposed to function. Women learn valuable information and life skills and pass it on to other women.

Women in Haiti are often denied basic learning and growing opportunities. They are stuck in superstition and misinformation. Often babies die because a mom is missing basic care-giving skills. We are seeking to change this woman by woman week by week. Pray for Chelor and Love Kendy!

-Beth McHoul

Perhaps this story of women gathering around each other can inspire us to gather around other women of the world and share our own resources. If you would like to hear more about how this program changes the lives of women, or if you would like to donate toward their efforts, check out Heartline Haiti’s website.