I was chatting with a friend the other day and we began to talk about the parable of the new wine into old wineskins (It can be found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke). As we reflected on some of the concepts and ideas I also began to see a real connection to the season of lent and grief.
Dust & Breath is about growth. It is about providing a space for reflection and conversation to take place within oneself and with others. It is about pursuing transformation of the self and transcendence of the self with moves towards the other. That is exactly what this parable is talking about too. The Triune God of the cosmos is the new wine. If we take seriously the idea that every moment can become an opportunity to be in the flow of God, then we need to be aware of the wineskin we may be living in. We cannot tap into the flow and connection with the triune God if we are holding onto the wineskin of our childhood, of last year, of last week, or maybe even of yesterday.
This idea of being a new wineskin is not easy. In fact, it often feels like a death. To rethink the ways in which we navigate and perceive the world is challenging but what it ultimately does is allows us to better see the other and have compassion on those who we may otherwise not. A wineskin that I am working on is having the ability to grieve the moments of my past that have negatively impaired my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, while also seeking forgiveness in understanding people were doing the best they could. There is a grieving of my childhood that has taken place and continues to take place. These deaths must be grieved and this is where the season of lent can provide an avenue for deeper reflection.
Emotions are the lights on our dashboard
From my experience and work, one of the crucial processes to beginning this journey involves becoming aware and okay with emotions. In a world that is wildly engendered, our culture has tended to typecast men and women based on the extreme sides of the bell curve. In a culture that has a short attention span and little ability to hold tension it makes sense that one of the biggest battles men have to fight is one involving their humanity. Fitting the caricature of being a man has become a larger priority than being human. Let that sink in for a bit. When we can better identify and begin to break down these unhelpful walls we can truly step into a place where grief can be engaged more healthily. In a society and culture that assigns a gender to everything (color, actions, emotions, words, posture, hairstyle, cars, architecture, etc) it becomes difficult to avoid the binaries that get constructed. The one I want to address is emotions. In the society that has a gender binary for everything it becomes easy to self-monitor your feelings, actions, and behaviors so that you stay on the correct side of the line. When emotions are part of a binary we lose our humanity and our ability to connect with God becomes cloudy. Let me give an example to highlight this idea. I want you to think of a men and women. Woman have been deemed as the "emotional" beings and therefore when a man is said to be "emotional" they are actually being deemed as less than a man. When googling "emotions" plenty of websites choose to highlight that men are supposed to be in control. To have emotions means you are out of control. When a little boy falls and begins to cry, too often the response is “you’re a big boy. Big boys don’t cry”. From a young age, boys are trained to not see or feel emotions. Let's get something straight. If you have a pulse, you have emotions. Emotions are not specific to a gender they are a part of being alive. Another thing, do not think of emotions as good or bad (that is a by-product of a culture that can't handle nuance) think of emotions as a spectrum or capacity. All humans have the capacity for emotions and our ability to engage these capacities is crucial. To experience an emotion is not bad. Emotions are the warning lights on our dashboard. Just like a car, when the fuel light comes on you become aware that minor service may be needed. When the oil light comes on you may know a slightly more in depth service is needed. Becoming aware of our emotions is crucial. If we ignore them, like someone could ignore a fuel light, we will end up on the side of the road broken down.
It can be dark to become aware of emotions
Just because you believe the above point does not mean engaging these emotions and capacities is easy. Often the characteristics that may be difficult for us to handle now are actually the things that helped us survive as children. As an adult I have a difficult time allowing others to care for me. I am a very independent person and tend to withdraw when others begin to know me at deeper levels. This tendency, which has made adult life and relationships very difficult, at one time was the way I “survived” as a child. I grew up in a loving Christian home (nothing catastrophic happened in my life or family) yet did not feel known. Independence and avoidance is how I navigated life. Can you see how what once kept me “safe” is now something I am finding is a barrier between myself and relationships (with God and others). When I began to internalize that emotions were normal I began to have a deep sadness for my child self, who felt alone, confused, and unable to connect with others on a deeper level. Engaging these pains and grieving them were difficult because it felt wrong to critique my family and upbringing. There is no formula that can be given but I would say in order to engage your emotions, try to separate intentions from impact. Often times peoples intentions are good but the impact/outcome is hurtful to us. Can we sit in that tension? Too often we allow someone’s intention to drown out the impact we experienced.
Lament is where we can find God
So maybe you have started to uncover and surface some deep emotions and pains from your past or present and can’t help but ask, “what’s the point?” Maybe you grew up in a tradition or culture that constantly looked to the bright side and this move towards grief and sorrow seems to go against every fiber in your being. I would ask you to hang in there. If you look in the Psalms, David writes many laments. Some of these he is literally asking God to strike down his enemies! How dark is that?? The point being, God can handle your pain and your grief. David often said, “Lord, search me and know me.” This is KEY! How can we know God if we do not know ourselves? How can we know ourselves if we do not know God? This journey through grief is less about being a finished product and more about being willing to grow deeper. Those emotions and feelings you may have in your heart are there whether you realize it or not and maybe the first step isn’t about naming an exact feeling but rather becoming aware of how difficult it is to try and sit with emotions. Are you willing to move towards a new wineskin this season of lent?
Places to start:
- When was a time you felt embarrassed or shamed?
- Who else was involved in that moment?
- What about that moment brought those feelings of shame and embarrassment?
- What may that shame or embarrassment be directed towards (not being good enough? Being seen as less than? Feeling exposed or exploited? Being misunderstood? Feeling marginalized? Etc.)?
- If you can identify what the underlying tension(s) may be ask yourself, “Who taught me or told me to think that way?”
Then ask, “Would the God of love have taught me or told me to think that way?” Sit in the feeling that these questions may bring up and ask God to join you in comfort.
If these questions or this exercise are difficult to engage with, try to identify what emotion or feeling you may have towards them. Ask yourself, “who may have taught, trained, or modeled for me this response?” Then ask yourself, “Would the God of Love (who sat with David as he lamented) taught, trained, or modeled this way of life for me?” Sit with the feelings these questions may bring up and invite God to join alongside of you in comfort.
Jon is a trained spiritual director from the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary. While he was completing his Masters degree he also worked at Vanguard University overseeing the student recreation programs and coached at a local CrossFit gym. Although these three roles may seem vary different, they greatly impacted the way Jon approaches wellness. He views wellbeing through wholistic lens that sees the interrelated natures of spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational wellness.
From his days playing sports in the High Desert of Yucca Valley to attending college at Vanguard University, Jon has had a care for people and those on the fringe. It was this concern for others and his own questions about faith, life, and God that led him to seminary. He see’s his time in seminary as a launching pad into a journey of continual growth with/through God and community.
Jon is a fan of sports (particularly San Francisco based teams), camping, coffee, and reading.