Wellness & Self-Care in the Age of Despair

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A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

 – John 16:32-33

Concrete buildings and steel cages. Hurricane aftermath of Puerto Rico. The crisis in Venezuela. Rohingya refugees. South Sudan. Contaminated water in Flint, MI. Pipeline fire in Hesston, KS. 17-year-old, Antwon Rose shot and killed in the back by police after a traffic stop. The DAPL in sacred indigenous lands.

I often find it hard to disentangle the continuities of oppression waged upon the marginalized community without noticing the politics of whiteness. I, like many other women of color, have and experience an inordinate amount of trauma. And, when western political powers utilize language like “zero tolerance,” more often than not brown and black communities are disproportionately affected.

In the Age of Trump, as some have come to call this period, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, sexism (to name a few), while practiced throughout the history of America in, perhaps, more latent ways, has emboldened the alt right and empowered many white evangelicals to align themselves with (sometimes, by way of intentional complacency) and publicly endorse white supremacist ideals. Many are affected. Many are terrified. Many are impacted. Me too.

To borrow from Christena Cleveland’s blog, “Wellness in the Age of Trump”:

Many of us feel compelled to act – to speak out, to protest, to advocate, to gather, to comfort, to fight for justice. But for many, particularly white people, this is the first time they have attempted to act effectively under duress and anxiety. This is the first time that the oppression feels personal to them and they don’t know what to do. For others, particularly people of color, this is yet another trauma on top of a lifetime of traumas. Many of us have been fighting for years. We’ve reached our physical limits and we’re weary. No matter the reason or racial identity, many who feel compelled to fight for justice find themselves deterred by listlessness, hopelessness, perplexity and fear. Me too.

As a Jesus follower, I am convinced that before we can sustainably give from ourselves, we must first be firmly rooted in His undying, love and actively rooted in a community in which nourishes, forms and fortifies our renewal and commitment to Jesus’ justice leadership.

We can’t keep fighting, absorbing and healing from traumas, and hoping in the face of disappointment without a fortified and formed spirituality that directly speaks to the issues of injustice. The beautiful thing about our current blatantly-unjust political climate is that it is a holy ground for this type of spiritual formation. We are formed, fortified and even reborn in the liminal spaces and during the shadowy times. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés so beautifully says, “Like Mary, we often give birth – in the middle of nowhere, unaccompanied, with the most meager of circumstances – to the God of love.”

As, I have struggled to hold each of these (and many more) realities, I found myself working through a series of self-care practices. And, I found myself revisiting what it means to live as a faithful, resurrected people in times of despair. The Bible has a particular phrase for repentance, metanoia, which, depending on your linguistic interpretation means in Greek to change one’s mind, or penance, or in English, to turn around and walk in a new direction.

 This definition of repentance is particularly helpful when applied to living authentically and openly as a faith community in a (I am applying this particularly to the western world, although it can be applied widely) world which operates on the politics and supremacy of whiteness.

As Christians, navigating these tensions while proclaiming the everlasting love and redemption of Jesus can be exhausting. Many feel lonely, angry, hurt or incensed. Me too. But, I remain convinced that part of the hope in Jesus means that we too must die an intentional, daily death to sin, and in this death, we are resurrected to proclaim hope in a hopeless land.

As I have been exploring the concepts of lament and repentance, I stumbled across this book: “forgive us: confessions of a compromised faith” by Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah.  I like this book because it intentionally and powerfully uses voices and stories of persons/cultures/communities whom the Christian church has historically oppressed to speak truth about injustice and reorients confession to one in which is corporate rather than solely individual. A particularly moving excerpt from the Foreword by Dr. Mark Labberton and Reverend Jim Wallis below:

“No one comes to repentance and confession easily. That’s the point, of course. It requires two things few of us like: taking responsibility and embracing a kind of death. This is not the good news we like living or proclaiming. But we must acknowledge our complicity or entanglement in systems and patterns of sin and injustice, and we must die to the illusion that such history can be escaped. If we are to mirror the new life that is the resurrection, dying precedes rising. Repentance and forgiveness precede reconciliation.”

1. Lament

I am increasingly convinced that lamenting is a particularly difficult practice for the western world. One of my racial justice mentors explained this phenomenon by equating it with a key function of white supremacy. White supremacy, she articulated, often discounts the validity of body truths.

Lamenting requires listening andpaying attention to one’s body and holding the tensions of fear and anger – emotions which are often discounted as irrational and unnecessary. As I practiced lamenting this week, I found myself naming injustices and noticing where I held each injustice in my body. I listened to and stayed with my breath as I allowed myself to feel the injustices I was naming. After 90 seconds, I named another injustice and then committed to listening to my body for 90 seconds, and continued this process throughout my lamenting session.

2. Truth

I have found it helpful to follow a time of lamenting by remembering and focusing on God by naming whom God is: compassionate, healing, loving, all powerful, all just, gracious, good, etc., One of the ways in which I also fortify myself is by listening to music. It was helpful to use music as a fortifying tool in my time of lament as well.

Below are a few links to some of the songs I have found particularly powerful this week:

Kyrie Elieson– Chris Tomlin 

Pie Jesuby Celtic Women

No Longer Slaves by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser (Bethel Music)

It is Well– Kristine DiMarco and Bethel Music

Pieces– Bethel Music

God I Look to You – Francesca Battistelli

3. Humanization

Resentment is such an easy thing to allow to root in our hearts. If you are anything like me, it is incredibly hard to listen to let alone pray for our current administration. As a POC and as a woman I, like many other minority women, am acutely and intimately aware of the impact of our current administration’s detrimental and profound accusations and decisively hateful rhetoric. I have been trying, to practice the Resentment Prayer – praying for those by asking for qualities we desire in our own life for them, ie; health, safety, etc., because part of loving our neighbors is loving all our neighbors. In this step, I attempt to name and pray for each member of our current administration’s team and this week, I added different ICE agents.

4. Formation

As I ended my time of lamenting and self-care, I refocused on what my vision of racial justice entails. For me, I long for a sustainable, shalom-oriented, God fearing, intentional world invested in the inherent well-being and value of all humans. While, I often think about this vision in terms of my local community/country, I wanted to revisit what it means to have this vision and what tools and strategies are required to work towards this vision. For me, humanization of my neighbor is a part of this journey. Lamenting is a part of this journey. Connecting is a part of this journey. Whole body listening is a part of this journey. And truth-telling is a part of this journey.

What is your racial justice vision? What tools does it require? What are your acts of intentional, rooted, resistance? As always, I am interested in hearing from you.

Shalom always. 

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