Have you ever written a love letter to yourself?
I have a vivid memory of a dear friend telling me, decades ago now, about writing a love letter to herself when her life was falling apart. Grief was a sharp, shattering force; loss tearing at the fabric of her life. She wrote herself a letter in celebration of her aliveness, aliveness that at the time felt tenuous, more cause for dogged endurance than celebration. I remember her sharing how she praised herself for the life-giving pleasures she knew how to offer herself–iced tea and orgasms and shade given by trees on sunny days.
After returning to this love-letter-writing-practice often over the years, I recently asked my friend about this letter again. She has no memory of it. She celebrated my memory of it, though, and whether she did or didn’t write that love letter, it has changed how I think about love letters and self love and the courageous practice of turning toward life even when life is falling apart around us.
And my, does life seem to be falling apart around us.
We are carrying so many ruptures and losses, differently and uniquely, personal and collective. These days, psalms of lament may flow more easily than love letters. My beloved writes beautifully of sadness as a prayer, grief as a lifeline. Not an ask, not a confession, but a testimony, an offering.
Eco-womanist theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher writes about, and in a spirit of, “embodied theological wording–writing from the heart, where spiritual life dwells, dances, and breathes more deeply.” Our theology is lifeless, she insists, if it is not written from the heart, from the place where we are most honest.
Sadness. Grief. Fear. Rage. Exhaustion. Honest offerings from our apocalyptic living.
Baker-Fletcher sees in dandelions pushing through sidewalk cracks an act of resurrection. I wonder if the dandelions sense how eager so many humans are to kill them, by poison or plucking up from the root. I wonder how they feel, pushing against concrete in order to live and open and bloom.
If we are being honest, in our heart of hearts, we sense–we know–we are learning in so many ways–that the pace and scale and patterned rhythms of our collective, earthly life are impossible to sustain. We know how it feels, pushing against concrete in order to live and open and bloom.
Joanna Macy suggests that now, as everything is unraveling, is exactly the time for cultivating and practicing “wild love for the world.” She helps me expand beyond exhaustion, her love for the world palpable in writings about “deep time,” and “active hope,” and “coming back to life,” and “the work that reconnects.” Macy locates us, here and now, at a pivotal point in human history, a “great turning” from an industrial-growth society that is now unraveling under the ecocidal and genocidal pressures of production, extraction, and domination, toward a life-sustaining, life-affirming society.
Love is lifeforce (thank you, June Jordan) and returning to life, coming into aliveness, is a spiritual practice of falling in love with life, staying in love with the exact container of life that is you, and us, and this, here, now.
And so, to the friend who may or may not have written that love letter to herself years ago: I love you, dear friend, and your love for softness and shady spots and bathtubs and books. I love you for continuing to choose life, and for honoring how much courageous labor that choice can entail. I love the ease of your company, the way shame doesn’t seem to exist in your grammar of aliveness, and how tenderly you hold the parts of me I am so scared to share, or show.
And, I love you, tender geranium shoots sending new roots down into the water on windowsill above the kitchen sink. You survived all winter, down in the basement’s dark, and now here you are, pressing against the glass, reaching for the sun. You bear witness to what can yet grow, after and in times of dormancy, lines blurred between life and death.
I love you, red cardinal, perched on the Black Lives Matter yard sign, singing your heart out.. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,” wrote Maya Angelou, “it sings because it has a song.” Thank you for sharing your song, for filling this day with song, with the invitation to join the cacophony, while we stay with the trouble, and orient toward the liberating wisdom we carry in our bones.
And, I love you, dear me. Me, with aching spine and inflamed nervous system, with hands that sometimes can no longer hold. Me, learning to breathe in and through pain. Me, with messy grief still spilling over. Slow processor, deep feeler. Me, with more questions than answers, more attempts than accomplishments, more possibilities than plans. I love how I keep tending life in all the ways I know how. I love how I seek out the sage first thing in the morning, rubbing it between fingertips and inhaling it deeply, before moving on to lavender, thyme, lemon balm, mint, basil, and rosemary. I love how deeply I love what and who I love. I love how allergic I am to superficial theology, orthodoxy, and small talk. I love how free I feel communing with trees, walking without a route, flying fast on my bike, delivering soup and chocolate to students, breathing deep in silence, leaving rhubarb crisp on neighbors’ steps. I love how intuitively and deeply I know the world as sacramental, divinity as enfleshed, salvation as salve and salvage, sacredness dwelling in ordinary encounters…
It might just be a perfect time to write love letters. To yourself, to the earth. To ancestors and those dreamed of but yet to come. To friends, and dandelions, and the futures we long for, and live for, with wild love, nevertheless.
Anna Blaedel (they/them) is cofounder and theologian-in-residence at enfleshed, where they tend to the theopoetic intersections of spiritual, academic, and activist engagement. Anna chaplains University of Iowa students, and is a doctoral candidate in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division on Religion. Waking before dawn, lingering in poetry, being an aunt, retreating to the woods or their basement woodshop, tending the garden, sharing silence, and feeding people delicious food are some of Anna’s favorite things.