|My COVID captivity looks like this: work from home M-F, empty nest, husband retired, quiet house in suburbia, USA. I have time on my hands. I vacillate between apathy and productivity. During the past two months I’ve read a few books dealing with theology and loving, self-kindness. (My faith journey has not been stifled by the pandemic.) In this post I share three mini book reviews and a quilt project that has soothed my soul as I remember my mother and grandmother. My intention is to share some of what I have been doing, in hopes that it might help you in your circumstances.
First book:Jesus’ Plan for A New World, The Sermon on the Mount, by Richard Rohr, published in 1996. In this quick read, Rohr lays a contextual foundation for the times and circumstances Jesus lived through. One chapter called Table Fellowship in the New Testament was enlightening; “…sharing food is a complex interaction that symbolizes group relationship and defines group boundaries almost more than any daily event.” Rohr explains that so many of Jesus’ teachings took place over a meal where Jesus welcomed everyone. There was no worthiness interview in order to partake. That got me thinking about our sacrament rules of who can and cannot partake.
“He [Jesus] refuses to interpret the Mosaic law in terms of Leviticus’s Law of Holiness, in terms of inclusion/exclusion, the symbolic self-identification of Judaism as the righteous, pure, elite group. Jesus continually interprets the Law of Holiness in terms of the God whom he has met—and that God is always compassion and mercy.”
Rohr’s theology is expansive and inclusive. He takes on modern religion, including his own Catholicism, with thoughtful open eyes, seeing the good and the bad. His catch phrase is “both, and” rather than “either, or.” I recommend this book if you are looking for contextual understanding of Jesus’ times and how Jesus was a threat to the status quo of his day.
Second book: Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and The Search for What Saves Us, by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker. This book is new to me, although published in 2001. The authors come from divergent backgrounds and separately reach the same conclusions about violence and suffering as viewed through the Christian lens. Both women developed a feminist theology, rejecting the valorization of suffering based on their varied personal and professional experiences.
This book deals with intense subject matter including childhood abuse, abortion, racial bigotry, abandonment, adoption, loss, divorce, homophobia, LQBT-identity, bi-racial identity, PTSD, war, sex, suicide, therapy and more.
The book’s chapters are written in three sections, corresponding to Lent, Pentecost and Epiphany. In the Lent chapter, Parker shares excerpts from sermons she delivered (as a Methodist minister) during the 6 Sundays of Lent. In each homily she tackles the atonement, explaining Substitutionary Theory, Liberation Theology, The Moral Influence Theory, and The Crucified God Theory. In each case she explains how these theologies valorize suffering at the expense of the victims. I literally took notes as I read these sermons. This is deeper theological water than I am accustomed to swimming in. Both authors share their own stories of recovery from violence, offering insight to help others on the journey. They reach an alternative theology about what really saved them and offer that to us, as readers.
I recommend this book if you are interested in feminist theology or alternative atonement theories. This book might be triggering for you If you have a history of trauma, violence and/or abuse in your life.
Third book: The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, by Kristen Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD, published in 2018. This workbook is the text for an online group I’m participating in: Spiritual Practices for Pandemic. The facilitator uses the book at a guide, while we each complete the exercises independent of the class.
The chapters are organized with reading content followed by exercises (questions to ponder and journal about), informal practices that can be done with a group or as an individual, and guided meditations. The book provides access to on-line audio files which can be streamed or downloaded. In these files the authors talk you through the practices and meditations, making it easily accessible in either written or audio format.
During stress we often revert to our most primitive style of coping. Understanding and regularly practicing self-compassion will allow higher-level coping skills to be more present to you on a routine basis. I view it as ‘more tools in my tool-belt’.
For example, take the stress responses of fight, flight and freeze. Stress, responded to with self-compassion results in self-kindness, rather than self-criticism (fight), common humanity rather than isolation (flight), mindfulness rather than rumination (freeze). The concepts are explained in plain language that make sense. There are multiple practices throughout the book that allow you to access varied options to be kind to yourself. I’ve taken notes on my phone and review the strategies once a day to help me be aware of positive ways to respond to stress.
I like this workbook very much. The first gem was an explanation of the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem. The exercises ask for thoughtful reflection, which helps get to the heart of how you respond in stressful situations. It is a choice to be self-critical or self-kind. I like the option of guided meditations and it’s nice to hear the content in the authors’ voices. I recommend this workbook to anyone who is feeling stressed right now. The tools can be easily learned and then shared with your family members and friends, as needed. I’ve already gifted a copy to someone special.
Lastly, I wanted to share a patchwork quilt I’m working on. I come from a heritage of quilters. My mother was prolific with beautiful, patterned quilts. My grandmother made patchwork quilts from fragments of fabric. When dresses wore out, they became aprons. Pants became shorts, gowns became priestly vestments. When there was nothing wearable to make from the fabric, they became patchwork quilts.
I have a collection of fabric also, fragments of left-over projects. I’m making a patch work quilt like my grandmother’s. The colors don’t match. The corners don’t align. The squares aren’t always square or the same size. The top, now completed, is big enough for a queen-sized bed. I am sleeping beneath this unfinished project because it feels and looks so good (to me) with all the strange materials and mismatched squares. It is so imperfectly perfect. I see material from clothing I’ve made, pajamas I’ve loved, quilts I precisely pieced in the past. This time there is no precision. I did what I wanted. No rules. No one saying what I could or couldn’t do. I just needed to do my own thing without rules. It is a statement, rebelling against the current rules that confine me.
Perhaps I also wanted to connect to my mother and grandmother who were so influential in my life. I’m quilting (sewing the top to the bottom) slowly, by hand, while it lays on my bed. I sit at the bedside tending to the quilt like a loved one lying beside me. It’s comforting. It feels like home. I feel immense peace, running the thread through layers, binding disjointed pieces together in a one great whole.
Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who celebrate this holiday.
May we be safe.
May we be happy.
May we be healthy.
May we live with ease.
May we be free to be who we are. May we color outside the lines. May we sew outside the patterns.
May we wander outside the captivity, soon.