Excessive Gentleness ❄️
An invitation for 2022
Paid Subscribers: You can listen to this essay as part of The Secret Field Notes Podcast, Episode 18. (For new folks, this is a private podcast feed where I read - and sometimes preach - my Field Notes essays.)
A compassionate welcome to 2022 for you After a bit of time off for Christmas holidays, I’m back to work this week.
Of course, like many of you, my four kids are all still at home. *stares directly into the camera* Due to, well, everything, winter break has been extended an extra week as the schools make adjustments or plans for a possible shift to either online learning or some new safety measures. Thankfully, I work from home and so we’re among the very fortunate, but my heart goes out to all of the families, administrators, and teachers for whom this is a particular sort of hardship after a long couple of years already.
We ended up with a very quiet Christmas holiday here. My sister’s family was in total quarantine throughout the holidays, only emerging on New Year’s Day for our fried chicken and cribbage tournaments. [Side note: my deepest apologies to her neighbours for the completely off-key rendition of Joy to the World with which our family serenaded the street on Christmas Day, whilst dropping off casserole dishes of turkey and mashed potatoes on their front step. To be fair, what we lacked at “being on key”, we made up for with “volume” and “intensity.”]
We didn’t see anyone during the holidays on the slim chance of an exposure ourselves and laid very low for two weeks. This teeny-tiny cold snap in the minus-thirty-five range meant that I don’t want to go out much regardless. (Everyone is all recovered nicely now; thankfully because of they were fully vaccinated, it was a relatively easy experience comparatively.)
As we ease into this new year, I’ve been thinking about how to start off another year of Field Notes with you. I took some time during the break to build out my yearly calendar of plans (as God laughs, but you get it). Spoiler alert: our next theology deep-dive for Back to the Bonfire will, God willing and the creek don’t rise, be in two weeks and we’ll be talking about whether or not the Bible is inerrant. Good times!
Anyway, back to today. If there is one thing I knew I didn’t want to do today when I showed up in your inbox, it was to be another voice cheerfully setting goals and clapping her hands in motivation, the Jesus-y equivalent of Go, team! Win state!
A few days ago, I posted a little something on Instagram in response to the DO BETTER discourse that usually takes over our lives at this time of year. The caption for the post read:
I know it’s nearly “New Year, New You!!!” time on Instagram so I have a few thoughts from the standpoint of someone whose body is often sick or in pain. (For the uninitiated, I live with chronic illness which has drastically changed not only how my body feels and her capacity, but how she looks, too.) I want to gently tell you, in the cacophony of wellness industry and goals and battles, that your body is good. Good. Right now. Right from the beginning, our bodies were good.
I have had to learn slowly, diligently, to practice peace (or shalom) with my body over these last few years. Shalom with my body is not just for the days when I am pain-free or able to walk or a certain size or physically strong. Shalom with our bodies isn’t for the day when we take up less space. It is right now, this body, this moment. Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, “ There comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Here I am. This is the body like no other than my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.’” I want to tell you that finding my soul’s address lovely again, as we are, has been good work.
So yes, I know a lot of us have goals and intentions, perhaps precisely because of the lack of control we have had the last few years of pandemic. That’s fine: Loving our body doesn’t mean neglect, I know that all too well. But perhaps, just perhaps, you could make it your intention - this year - to rest from your battle against your body and simply embrace her with peace and love and joy and gratitude.
Maybe you don't need to shrink and shrink and shrink. Maybe your lines are lovely. Maybe you should buy comfy clothes and laugh more and ditch the shame. Maybe your body is made in the image of God, she is telling a story of your life, and she is worthy of your love.
Maybe you need to make peace with your body - this age, this stage, this size, this ability, this capacity. Maybe it's time to love your body.
(Some of this is excerpted from my book “Miracles and Other Reasonable Things” which covers a lot of my experience with this sort of life.)
That simple Instagram post seemed to hit a nerve and many of the comments on that post have stayed with me in the days since. These are tender, tender stories held within our bodies. Stories of shame even. The response confirmed my hunch about where many of us are at right now.
So no, I am not careening into your inbox with chipper plans, goal setting worksheets, do-better mantras, and journalling questions. (Not that I’m against this - I usually take part myself.) It seems to me that we’re desperate for some gentleness, compassion, and kindness right now. Not only towards our own bodies but our whole selves and each other, too.
In fact, that very thing was on my mind when I wrote part of the prayer I sent last week in particular: “I pray for gentleness in you and for you this year. May you see the goodness of God in your actual days. May you be given wisdom and joy, may you walk in truth and justice. I pray for cold water when you are parched, for warmth when you are cold, for a hand to hold when you are lonely, for the steady and abiding presence of God in the night.”
I’ve been circling that word or concept of gentleness for my own self lately, even revisiting Matthew 11:28-30 once again. If you’ve been around me for a hot minute, you’ve likely heard me teach, preach, write, and generally not-shut-up about those words from Jesus; they have been transformative for me. These past few months, I have been reading the First Nations Version of the New Testament steadily and I love how the translators rendered that passage:
“Come close to my side, you whose hearts are on the ground, you who are pushed down and worn out, and I will refresh you. Follow my teachings and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest from your troubled thoughts. Walk side by side with me and I will share in your heavy load and make it light.”
You who are pushed down and worn out. You whose hearts are on the ground.
It feels like a lot of us are entering 2022 with our hearts on the ground, pushed down and worn out. The invitation of rest and gentleness, of walking with Jesus on that very road feels like an exhale.
Years ago, I used to participate in the One Word 365 challenge for the new year. Remember that? That’s a big mid-aughts blogging deep cut. Rather than creating reams of resolutions, the idea was to choose one word to shape your year. (Someday I’ll revisit 2012 when I chose the word Fearless: whew, that was ill-advised and one of the best things that ever happened to me.) I haven’t done that One Word challenge thing for the past few years. Instead, I’ve taken to embracing a posture, maybe even a mantra, you could say. For two years now, I’ve been meditating on and orienting my soul around a prayer for God to “teach me to love the world again.” That theme has popped up again and again here at Field Notes, as I’m sure you’ve noticed - in fact, that was the origin for one of the prayers I wrote for A Rhythm of Prayer.
As I prayed and prepared for another turn around the sun, I was drawn back towards John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us, which is a true favourite of mine that I return to often. And the book literally fell open to a blessing For The One Who Is Exhausted (okay, God, I GET IT). Here are a couple of excerpts:
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
(I can’t share the whole poem in light of permissions/copyrights but you can read it all at On Being here and I hope you do.)
That line there in the middle of the poem? Be excessively gentle with yourself. Ah. There it is, friends. I think that’s my line and practice for the year, maybe longer: excessive gentleness.
I’ve got some work to do this year. Some of it will be obvious to people - Field Notes every week, of course, but we’re also reopening Evolving Faith for 2022 with a virtual gathering and a second season of the podcast. I hope to finish a new book proposal I’ve been noodling over for a year now. We’re entering another year with Heartline in Haiti where hope persists. Those are all good things and I’m grateful.
But some of the work of this year will be invisible to others - the work of finding and building community in our new city, the steady and compassionate work of raising our four children, the joyful work of marriage as Brian and I enter twenty-one years of lovely covenant with each other, the powerful work of embodying the kin-dom of God on earth as it is in heaven, the prophetic ordinary work of dismantling powers and principalities, even the good work of loving my body well, and in the midst of it all, there is the holy work of what John O’Donohue called “my soul coming to take me back.”
All while the pandemic continues. All while the world exhausts us, scares us, angers us, invites us into love.
Some of your work for 2022 will be evident to people. Other work will only be evident to you, perhaps your therapist, your closest people, our Holy Spirit. It’s all good work and I bless you in it. But perhaps this is also a year to be excessively gentle with yourself, too.
Gentle with your words to yourself. Gentle with your expectations. Gentle with your demands. Gentle with your soul. Gentle with your plans, your time, your hours, your sleep. Gentle with your partner, your kids, your people. Gentle with your needs, your wants, your desires. Gentle with your mind and your body.
Be excessively gentle, my friend. You don’t have to earn this. You are beloved by God, our Mother, let Them love you as a mother loves her baby.
As we turn that page in our calendar towards a new year, I thought we’d carve out a bit of space here to share how we’re entering 2022. Do you have a word or phrase you’re bringing into the year? If my own words here are ringing a bell in your own heart, how will you practice or embrace excessive gentleness this year? I’d love to hear.
And now, God with the hearts-on-the-ground, teach us to be excessively gentle with ourselves. Give us pathways to practice the same loving care we offer to others to our own selves for once. God of hoar frost and fiery stars, teach us to love our bodies and our minds, our souls and our strength as we love You. God with us in suffering and sleep, teach us to speak wisdom and goodness both aloud and into the hidden furls of our hearts. Ancient One of the Incarnation, of leftovers and long walks, of teenagers and tired teachers, of spreadsheets and sorrow, of warming centres and wool socks, teach us to be excessively gentle with ourselves and with each other. Amen.
In case you missed these Field Notes:
A Prayer for 2022 and the Field Notes 2021 in Review - for everyone
Cozy up for Christmas - for paid subscribers
Christianese, Enneagram, my favourite parenting advice, deconstruction talk, worship music, Advent with kids, cookies, and so! much! more!: Answering your Ask-Me-Anything questions for December - for paid subscribers
My Favourite Books of 2021 - for paid subscribers