By Anna Blaedel
This Lent, I’m lighting candles in a bowl cupping ashes, tulsi, soil, and salt. Elemental. Death mingling with life. The remnants of fire, holding the beeswax that becomes flame. Holy basil, cleansing and healing. Soil, where life begins and ends. Salt of the earth. Salt of our tears. Salt that keeps our glorious, aching hearts beating.
I know a poet who recently proclaimed she’d given up Lent for Lent this year. Last year, this year, “it’s enough,” she said. And my God, yes. And yet, while she may have given up Lent, she is living the liturgical season. Repentance. Reparation. Repair. The practice of coming into alignment, into at-one-ment. One glimpse, that I happen to know: she is a white woman, gathering weekly with other white people to deepen the work of transformation, laboring with others to get free of white supremacy, in belief and practice. And what is Lent, if not an invitation into transformation. Transforming ourselves to transform the world (thank you, Grace Lee Boggs.)
enfleshed’s Lenten offering this year is an invitation to create, and seek, and travel, and accompany each other on pathways to collective flourishing, through a simple poetry practice.
It is far from too late to start practicing with. Y/our poetic offerings are nourishment. We can be a compass for and with each other, as we find our way, and imagine new pathways and portals into collective flourishing.
For a few days recently, I was far from flourishing. Grieving, yes, but more so, in despair. Frozen in despair. Imagination, possibility, flourishing–all felt impossible. I felt disconnected from life, aliveness. June Jordan teaches us that “love is lifeforce,” and so disconnection from lifeforce is disconnection from love is disconnection from everything that matters. Disconnection is a terrifying and terrible place to dwell.
Black feminists offer a sacred wisdom tradition of love: Lifeforce love. Politicized love. Social love. Radicalized love, that is our taproot, and returns us to our roots. Love as freedom. Abolition as love practice, and love as abolitionist practice: Imagining and creating a world oriented toward and rooted in love–in care, in flourishing, in transformation–love that undermines and abolishes shame, punishment, imprisonment, isolation, confinement.
I did everything I know to do to return to, and practice, and connect with love. I turned to poetry, and tea, and my breath. I flailed, messy. I texted a beloved, who knows how I come alive when I can bare my skin to the sun, who reminded me the sun was shining, and asked had I been outside? For five minutes I stood in deep snow, in a tank top, communing with the sun. I listened and heard the sound of snow melting, the earth unfreezing. “Listening,” writes “Black Feminist Love Evangelist” Alexis Pauline Gumbs, “is not only about the normative ability to hear, it is a transformative and revolutionary resource that requires quieting down and tuning in.” Tuning in, I too felt something start to thaw. I facetimed that friend from the bath (thank God for that kind of enduring friendship), and then rubbed bathsalts full of herbs and spices and oils, sent by another dear friend, into my skin. I walked in the woods and touched bare trees and stood for a while listening to a small stream. I walked a loaf of bread, still warm from the oven, to students. I asked others how they were being nourished, and listened into their beauty-full wisdom. One of them asked me, in return, and so I dug deep into what was still true: facetimes from my nieces; practitioners of abolition teaching and leading and inviting me into practicing, too; returning to the piano; working with wood; growing baby avocado trees from pits; riding along with my beloved when they went to the drive thru pharmacy because even that kind of ordinary time with them feels holy, a gift; immersing myself in music offered by dear students and colleagues, even though it was mediated through zoom.
“When two violins are placed in a room,” writes poet Andrea Gibson, “if a chord on one violin is struck the other violin will sound the note. If this is your definition of hope, this is for you…For the ones who know we can sound the music in the people around us simply by playing our own strings…For the ones who sing life into broken wings…”
Dori Midnight, in anticipation of the Jewish holiday Purim which begins this evening–a commemoration of deliverance from empire’s deadly violence–writes of “shameless joy and aliveness in the face of empire.” What kind of joy can we cultivate, she wonders, to support us in this time? “Joy,” she writes, “like imagining what it’s like to be free from shame, or maybe in spite of shame, in spite of whatever made us heavy with that shame. Joy that is also subtle and small. Joy that is in relation to pain, that isn’t pretending it’s not complicated. Joy like a delta, a gathering of rivers that include the waters of grief and all the complexities of being human, of living on a planet that is unraveling. Joy like a little kid sticking their popsicle stained tongue out at authority or a surly teen flipping off whoever messes with you and your joy. Joy like queer love, queer rage, sweaty dancing, the magic of resistance that we especialize in. Joy that increases. Joy that is collective. Joy that frees us, all of us.”
“What is the pain teaching me?” A wise friend asked when I told them I couldn’t find my way into joy. Teaching: I cannot find my way alone. Lifeforce is love is collective is connective is the opposite of alone. There are so many layers of loss and isolation right now, and how can we not feel so very alone, and yet, and yet, and yet. Individualism, aloneness, is a powerful lie we’ve been taught by forces that want to divide us and deaden us, keep us from each other, keep us against each other, keep us from loving each other well. Capitalism. White supremacy. Economies of consumption and extraction. Theologies of individual prosperity and salvation.
I felt terribly alone. I was not alone, but the lie of aloneness functions as totalizing–dominance, conquest, and control–trying it’s damnedest to keep us from remembering what is true: We come from love. We are love. We return to love. We are here as love. We are here to love. And, to be loved. To be beloveds. Love. Lifeforce. Aliveness. Joy. Pathways to flourishing. Now, nevertheless.
May it be so.
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Rev. Anna Blaedel is theologian-in-residence at enfleshed. They bring an attentiveness to the intersections of academic, activist, and ecclesial engagement. Anna nourishes students through campus ministry for the University of Iowa Wesley Center and is enrolled in a PhD program in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division.