This, too, shall pass

I recently found myself in a bout of happiness.

It was the little-things brand of happiness: when you look at the evergreen outside, you smile. Instead of tiredly avoiding conversation, you get excited to see your friends and acquaintances. You accomplish something, maybe even something small like checking your email without falling down an internet rabbit hole, and you feel truly accomplished. A cup of tea warms more than your body. Soft socks feel soothing. A phone-call with your family leaves you grateful rather than homesick. You dance to music because you feel so good you need to move. You can’t stop smiling. And sometimes, you don’t need a reason at all – you are just happy.

But I’ve got the pronouns wrong – it’s me that’s been feeling this. don’t need a reason at all – I am just happy. What a gift. About halfway through the first day of my first “bout,” when I found myself smiling at the sun coming through my window and laughing because I was so relieved at how easy it was to smile, I said something that may, at first, seem counter-productive or a little cynical. “This, too, shall pass,” I told myself. “This won’t last forever.”

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Usually those are words I reserve for my heaviest moments, the ones that sit on my back and breathe down my neck, or the starkest moments, the ones that suck all the color out of the world and flatten it. “This, too, shall pass,” I say. To give myself hope. “This won’t last forever.” You will make it through to the other side.

But this impermanence is no less true of a smile than it is of a sigh. And while acknowledging that fact may sound defeatist or ungrateful, for me, it was just the opposite.

This, too, shall pass. So don’t worry about holding on and making it last forever. Simply receive the moment as a gift.

This, too, shall pass. Embrace this moment for all it’s worth because it only lasts for a heartbeat.

This, too, shall pass. Because all things pass. Because you are alive – a dynamic being. To live is to breathe in and out, to be happy, to be sad, to love, to hurt, to laugh, to sob, to embrace, to push away.

This, too, shall pass. You are not required to keep yourself locked in this one place, this one experience. You will feel sad again. And that does not mean you will have have failed. It simply means you are alive. You are not required to feel happy indefinitely.

English speakers have been attempting to sort out the difference between “happiness” and “joy” for as long as English has been a language. And people have sought to understand the concepts long before that. Is one a feeling and one a way of being?  Can you have joy without happiness? Happiness without joy? What does it mean to be joyful if you’re not happy? What does joy mean in the first place?

A few weeks ago I was at the Calvin Worship Symposium, attending a seminar called “Prophetic Lament” in which writers and pastors discussed the necessity of lament in our spiritual practices. One panel member, Danjuma Gibson, talked about the tendency to hurry out of spaces of grief and pain. “But I’m not sure that lament is the opposite of joy,” he said. “I see it as a particular embodiment of joy.” He went on to define joy as “the divine, eternal conviction that, no matter what, I am somebody in God’s creation.” For Gibson, joy is confidence in the existence of my relationship to the Creator and God’s good creation, the faith that I am alive and breathing and beloved. Lament, he said, when rooted in this conviction – this faith, this joy – is the choice to make my place in the world known and heard. Heard by God – and heard by myself.

Happiness, with this definition of joy, is actually not so different from lament. Happiness is also the choice to make my place in the world known and heard. Depression tends to take away my capacity to understand my place in the world and to lift up my voice in any kind of meaningful way. It numbs me. The lifting of depression opens my capacity for all kinds of feelings.

When both happiness and lament are rooted in joy, in the faith of my being beloved by God, I don’t have worry about the passing of any particular emotion. These, too, will pass, even as the conviction of my place in God’s creation remains the same. My bout of happiness did come to an end and was replaced with a gloomy, tired couple of days. But the gloomy days ended, too, and I am smiling at small things once again.

And this, too, will pass. But what a gift this being alive thing is.

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Bike!

I’m totally overwhelmed. By what’s happening in our nation, by where it seems to be leading, by the increasing need to step up and act. I am also convinced that in the midst of this fight for justice, we must continue to celebrate the big and small things that bring joy and beauty into our lives. We must re-member, re-constitute, the goodness of God we have experienced in our communities. So I do that today – with this update on my bike.

This past October, after I had the great misfortune of having my bike stolen, I had the great privilege of being supported and held by so many of you all. My Words for Wheels project was an attempt to trade written works for bike-buying funds (and if you have not yet received your written piece – fear not! It is coming!), and it was a rather successful venture, mostly because you all are a fantastic community.

I wanted to get the replacement bike before winter weather set in, so at the beginning of November, I brought home (and subsequently rode endlessly) this beauty:

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May I present Lucy Pevensie, my bicycle extraordinaire.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Death and Life and 2016

I’d been thinking about writing on my depression experience for a long time, but small voices that sit behind my ears would whisper, “People will just think you want attention,” or “Folks will think less of you,” or “You are making this all such a bigger deal than it is.” I am silencing those voices to make room for my own, a voice that is raw and unpolished and a little afraid.

If we had a day for every time someone said 2016 has been a terrible year, we probably could make several new complete years. And in many ways, it has been a spectacularly awful year. The cultural atmosphere the U.S. election produced (or that produced the election) has been poisonous to breathe. We’ve felt helpless in the face of countless injustices: climate change, the war in Syria, systemic racism, etc. Illness has tried to pin down loved ones, and many of my friends have grappled with the death of someone close. I’ve cried about the future of the world during 2016 more than any other time I can remember.

And yet. Without diminishing the devastation and fear and righteous indignation that we feel, I want to note that, for me, personally, 2016 has not been a spectacularly awful year. In fact, it has been a year of miraculous hope and healing.

I’ve been struggling with depression since I was a teenager. It has come and gone over the years, swelling less like a tide and more like a tsunami, creeping up unexpectedly and then suddenly swamping everything, leaving me gasping for air and clutching for something to hold onto.

The summer of 2015 saw my slow decent into the strongest depressive episode I have known. (I touched on my experience briefly in my yogurt post.) At first, I felt numbed to beauty – I couldn’t notice the flickering sunshine on waving leaves anymore. Then, I couldn’t get up the energy to clean, to cook, to eat. I desperately wanted company, but I didn’t have it in me to reach out and connect. Every morning and evening as I lay in bed, it felt like a great weight settled on my chest, a weight that pressed at every loss and pain I’d ever experienced and pushed at the cracks until rivers of tears broke through. I felt like I was viewing the world through a pane of glass, never able to participate, never able to shake the endless fatigue, never able to come fully alive. I saw little hope for the future—for my own life or for the planet as a whole.

At the beginning of 2016, things had gone from bad to worse. Some nights I would be seized by an overwhelming terror. Lying on my bed and staring at the dark ceiling, I would stuff my hands into my mouth to keep from screaming, my body both shaken by silent tears and paralyzed by the gripping fear that, if I moved one inch, I would do something rash about the persistent thought that my life was just not worth living anymore. I felt like a deep pit was sucking the bones from my body, was draining me dry, was emptying me of everything good and beautiful. I wasn’t sure I had the energy to fight it.

But I couldn’t find the words to say anything to those I loved; I didn’t know how to ask for help. I believed those little voices that told me if I spoke up I would be a problem, a burden, an annoyance, an attention-seeking fraud. My worth was tied to my productivity and to my outward positive attitude, and with everything inside myself crumbling down, I worked to keep those outer walls propped up as long as I could.

When I began taking medication, it took off some of the edge, but it brought with it the side-effect of a crippling anxiety, a can’t-catch-my-breath worry that shellacked and veneered the deep existential fear already sitting in my middle. I kept trying everything I knew that was supposed to help. But still the foggy days wore on, and I thought this might be how I would live the rest of my life. I alternately railed at God for letting this disease take control of my life and begged God to release me from its hold.

I’m not exactly sure what it was that brought about the change. Winter ended. That always helps, at least a little. I had my medication changed. I stopped eating sugar for a while. I finished my last full-time graduate school semester, and the unrelenting pace of the previous years slowed. I moved into the neighborhood where my faith community was. All the stars aligned, and the fear that life would always be a battle against the gravity of a black hole slowly receded. Hope grew like a dandelion in a sidewalk crack—not beautiful, not lush or fragrant, but miraculous all the same.

In the past months, I have felt myself come back to life. I have laughed genuinely with friends. I have danced to music across my apartment for no other reason than I wanted to. I have reveled in the beauty of a distant mountain and of a tiny leaf. I’ve made yogurt and cookies. I’ve biked across the city breathing encouraging words to my working muscles. I’ve cried for a while and then felt a little better and lighter when I finished. I’ve made things with my hands and cooked real meals for my body. I’ve imagined a future for myself. Or futures. The paths are wide.

I am ending 2016 miles away from where I began it. I am still afraid, but not of myself. I am still grieving losses, but not without experiences of small joys and celebrations. I am still worried about the future, both personal and global, but (most days) I feel empowered to participate in it and not just let it happen. I still get lonely and homesick and unsure, but I am learning to shatter the walls I’ve built around myself and to recognize that, at the very least, we can all be lonely and homesick and unsure together. I still get angry at God for things that have happened, but every time I yell and rail I am a little more assured that God is open enough to hold whatever I hand Her.

So as 2016 looks to be ending with little hope, I offer this small, personal story of redemption. The change was not instantaneous. It wasn’t something I could entirely control. And it is not complete. Which is, perhaps, the biggest miracle: I am unfinished and growing. I end this year dynamically and vibrantly alive, even in my saddest moments, and where there is life, there is hope. My personal experience certainly doesn’t change the enormity of the challenges we face walking into 2017. But maybe my story can give you strength for the journey ahead—because we are alive. We are a whole garden of dandelions cracking the sidewalk, and we don’t enter this new year alone.

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Partners in Prayer

Are you looking for an Advent study that takes seriously the call to “prepare the way” for God’s justice and reign on earth? In this year’s “Partners in Prayer” devotional, young Christian leaders from various backgrounds and walks of life write about the future that is emerging in this generation and the incarnation of God’s presence in the marginalized places of our world. I had the honor of editing and writing for this devotional during the last Advent season, and its stories, reflections, and prayers reveal the transformative, justice-seeking hope of Jesus’ coming.

Find the devotional here.

Let Justice Roll Down!

Today at seminary we are doing service of sending for those going to North Dakota and prayer for justice for the situation there.  I wrote this litany for our worship time together, drawing on Joel 2, Amos 5, and Isaiah 35.

Blow the trumpet at Standing Rock!

Sound the alarm on God’s holy prairie!

Let justice roll down like waters!

Let righteousness flow like an ever-living stream!

God stands against the dark, greedy snake of the pipeline,

God stands with those who protect the waterways.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who live on the Standing Rock reservation,

And for all native lives who have been dismissed and erased,

We pray for strengthened hearts and voices

And release from oppression.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who stand at the front lines,

Who put their bodies between greed and life,

We pray for warmth and light,

For protection and power.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those from among us who leave today,

Who go to stand beside the water protectors,

We pray for a spirit of wonder

And a witness of truth.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who send their hearts on the journey

And protect the water from afar,

We pray for creative vision

And empowered solidarity.

Let justice roll down like waters!

For those who stand behind the pipeline,

For investors and CEO’s and law enforcement,

We pray for the in-breaking of your Holy Spirit

And a repentance that leads to abundant life for all your Creation.

Let justice roll down like waters!

God our Living Water,

Strengthen the weak hands,

And make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

“Be strong, do not fear!”

Let justice roll down like waters!

With singing and shouts of joy,

Set us on your Holy Way.

Pour out your Spirit on all flesh,

And teach us to dream of your reign together.

Let justice roll down like waters!

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!

And all God’s people said: Amen.

Water is Life

I got this swooping, sinking, rushing feeling when I saw my professor’s facebook post.  He was planning to answer the call for clergy to come to Standing Rock next week, he said.  And would any students like to join him.

I didn’t really want to go.  I knew what camping in the freezing cold was like.  I’d seen the videos of violence against protesters.  I had a full schedule in the week ahead.  And I felt woefully unprepared.  But something deeper than desire and stronger than fear rose up within me and whispered, “Go!”

So I emailed my various supervisors and professors and asked if arrangements could be made for me to miss 4 days of work and classes, a not-insignificant part of me hoping they would say “no.”  But they didn’t.  They told me that this was an important opportunity and that they would make things work.  And the whisper inside me grew bolder and said, “Go.”

I decided to sleep on it and pray for guidance and had a very distressing but unhelpful dream about biking across Europe in the autumn and falling over on 3 person a bicycle into a mud pit.  The morning found me both weary and wired.  And the voice raised itself up inside me and shouted, “Go!” I knew that if I silenced that voice, I would silence something essential in me.  Call it my conscience, my vocation, a sense of justice, the Holy Spirit living in me – more than I wanted to stay home, I wanted to listen to that call and stand with those who needed allies.

There are several camps now at Standing Rock, all working toward the same purpose: halt the death-dealing black snake of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This pipeline and the oil it carries represents disregard for native lives and well-being, a threat to water sources, and a victory for big oil companies rather than a move toward sustainable energy solutions.  The Water Protectors (the preferred term, rather than protesters) have been using non-violent forms of resistance to call attention to the unjust and unethical practices of the pipeline construction.

This past week, a call was made to clergy all over the nation to join the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and stand in solidarity.  This is a crucial time for the work against the pipeline.  Violence and force from law enforcement is increasing, winter weather is beginning to set in, and the tribes gathered at Standing Rock need our support.

I am going with 11 other Garrett-Evangelical students, professors, and alums, as well as 2 non-seminary-affiliated folks.  We’re joining clergy and people of faith and people of no faith from all over the country to stand with those at Standing Rock.  We’ll be leaving Tuesday, arriving in Cannonball, North Dakota, on Wednesday, and participating in the clergy solidarity action on Thursday.  We’ll make the long trek back on Friday.  We ask for your prayers for strength, wisdom, peace, and justice.

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Behind that tiny word “Go!” are so many convictions that God has grown in me over the years:

  • God made the world and made it good (Gen. 1)
  • God includes the whole earth in God’s vision for community and justice (Lev. 25, Isaiah 11)
  • In the incarnation, Jesus was born, lived, died, and resurrected as a human, fleshy body who walked on this physical earth – in the incarnation, God affirms the goodness of Creation and brings the whole world into the redemption story (John 1, Romans 8).
  • All of Creation will be made whole (Romans 8, Isaiah 65).
  • Our God is One of justice and mercy, and God stands with the oppressed and the marginalized (Matthew 25, Luke 18, Isaiah 1 and 58).

I go to Standing Rock because of the God I serve and the kingdom of God that I am called to join.  I ask you to join your hearts and prayers to mine, and together we will work for the good of all God’s people and land.

More information from those on the ground about the history and situation:

http://standwithstandingrock.net/history/

This article is a couple months old, but it gives good background information:

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/09/26/sierra-club-no-dapl

If you have very warm winter gear – coats, boots, tents, sleeping bags, etc. – or hygiene items that you want to send with me, let me know.  Here are other ways to help:

http://act.350.org/sign/stop-dakota-access-pipeline?akid=s197373..Z7kCFf

Finally, you may be thinking, “This sounds like a good cause and all, but doesn’t it defeat the purpose to use a lot of oil/gas and drive out there?”  Good question!  We still live in an oil-based economy, and there just aren’t a lot of good options for traveling without using petroleum.  This is in large part due to the subsidies oil companies receive and the huge amounts of money and political power our nation grants them.  If enough of us can stand up and say NO to the Dakota Access Pipeline, then we may be able to have enough people power to imagine and enact new, healthy, sustainable and just ways of being a society.

 

Two Daughters

A couple weeks ago, I preached a sermon at Reba Place Church, my spiritual home in Evanston, about the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5.  In my seminary studies, I read about a connection between this story and another tory of an unnamed daughter of an Israelite leader, Jephthah, in Judges 11.  Jephthah’s daughter is sacrificed because of her father’s hasty and unfaithful vow, and her cut-short life is honored by Israelite women for centuries.  In the book of Judges, her sacrifice represents the fallenness of Israel and the death-dealing forces at work in the world. 

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Jairus’ daughter is saved because of her father’s faith, and her resurrection prefigures Jesus’ own resurrection.  Her healing serves as a sign of Jesus’ power for life over those death-dealing forces that surround us and speak so loudly.  For me, brining these stories together helps me notice God at work in the lives of young women across the globe and throughout history, girls who have been expendable in the hands of power and vulnerable to the violence of our societies.  I also began to look deeper into the ways God is present in my own struggle for life over the power of death.  The audio for the full sermon is here, but below is an excerpt imagining the two unnamed daughters as one young woman who Jesus calls to life.   

After clearing away the mourners, Jesus walked into the room, and he took the young girl’s cold hand in his. He said to her her, “Talitha cum!” Young woman, get up! Daughter, arise! Death is knocking hard at the walls of your heart, and death is breathing down the back of your neck, but you are not dead, only sleeping.

Daughter, arise! Do you feel the light sliding across your eyelids? Do you notice how now, again, your chest rises and falls with the wind on the breath of God? Do you sense your blood flowing again, not pooling, but racing through your limbs and circling strength back into your bones? There is a balm in Gilead, and the leaves are crushed for the healing of your being.

Daughter, arise!  Death presses in from all sides; it blinds, it maims, it tears you apart. But it will never. Have. The last. Word. Whether the overwhelming weight presses from outside or the insidious shadows grow taller inside you, I always have the last word. There are forces that want to claim you as their own, that silence the loud beating of your heart and crush the strong stance of your feet, but I will not let them destroy the purpose I have called you to. My voice calls louder still.

Daughter, arise! I call you up! I name you as alive! I pull you to myself, and you are not alone. When I pull you up, you will stand. On your own two feet. And you will walk. The light in your eyes and the breath in your lungs and the blood in your veins will all work for a common cause: to move you in the dance I have set for you. You are un-paralyzed. You are re-enfleshed. You are healed for a purpose.

Daughter, arise! I am sorry that your need was faster than my arrival. But everything wrong will be made right. Everything dead will live. I will wipe every tear from your eye, and there will be no more fear. I cast out your fear when I called you my own. Daughter, arise, he told her. And he took her hand.

And she stood up.

——-

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be ever thankful?

One of the most common pieces of advice I see in those “10 ways to change your life” or “5 practices of happy people” or “17 guaranteed ways to looks as bright and shining as the airbrushed person in this stock photo”articles is to keep a gratitude list.  As I’ve said elsewhere, practicing thankfulness is the first thing my mom always suggests when I find myself in a challenging mental space.

What does it mean to live in gratitude?  Is it simply saying “thank you” when good and/or beautiful things happen or appear?  Is it about being grateful in specifics or in general?  And what are the implications of thanking God for good things?  What about when gifts seem to be withheld, or when bad things come?  Who is responsible?

A couple weeks ago, my sister posted a picture to facebook that showed her plant named Roselyn, a gift from a fellow student.  Her caption read: “I’ve had Roselyn for about a year and half now, and this the first time she’s ever blossomed.  I didn’t know she was supposed to!  For once I think she may not be struggling for her life.”  In the picture, the dark burgundy leafy stalks sheltered a small bloom, pink and tentative and still opening up.  My dad left a comment underneath: “See.  We all bloom eventually.”  My sister had not written the words “thank you” or “gratitude” anywhere in her post, but something of thankfulness was evident in her surprise and delight and in my dad’s choice to see a universal truth speaking through a specific moment.

But what if Roselyn had never bloomed?  Or what if a bud had appeared but never opened?  What if we don’t all bloom eventually?  What if my sister’s plant had died?

dscf4911I am reminded of the kadish prayer, recited at a Jewish funeral, which praises God for the goodness of God and the world God has made.

Perhaps we are called not so much to be grateful for things that seem good and beautiful but for life when it is real and true.  For those times when the blinders of our fear, busyness, self-absorption, pessimism, optimism, dishonest perfectionism, all these fall away for a moment and we are confronted with the rawness of life, in all its terror and miracle.  So we give thanks when we laugh until we can’t breathe, and we give thanks when we shake and heave with sobbing.  We give thanks when a newborn wails its way into being, when a loved one breathes their last, tender words, when we hold a delicate flower and when we ride out a devastating storm.  Our stance of gratitude is based not on how well things are going but on how alive we are in this wild world.  And we give thanks to the One who is the true center of this aliveness.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he told us. Gratitude is the choice to live attentive to God’s aliveness in us.

Words for Wheels – Blessing for Grandma

My mom commissioned me for a Words for Wheels project (she is my mom, after all) and asked me to write a blessing for her mother’s birthday.  Below is what I sent her way. 

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Grandma with clematis and the memorial plaque for Grandpa

For Shirley Pavy, on the occasion of her 85th birthday by her granddaughter, Cassidhe Hart, with love.

With radiant grace, you have made a welcoming home, a place where memories are made and stories are told, a place where all are embraced and nourished, a place where others learn to open their hearts and homes.

May the stories you tell welcome and nourish you and those around you.
May you see your own hospitality mirrored in your loved ones, who take delight in sharing with you what you have taught them.
May you wake every day feeling held by the radiant grace of the God who is our host and our home.

With persistent strength, you have carried work, family, and church together, you have
walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and you have sought out the good and the beautiful all over the planet.

May you feel the presence of your own strength and celebrate your remarkable resilience.
May you be joined to the strength of your family, who is honored to shoulder your joys and burdens with you.
May you be surrounded by the strength of our persistently loving God, who never stops working for life and wholeness.

With thoughtful love, you have gently soothed our hurts and held our hands, you have
listened to and met the needs of strangers and loved-ones, and you have taught generations of children how to live well in this world.

May you find gentleness for yourself, for the challenges that come with growing older and the changes that come with growing wiser.
May the dance of giving and receiving never cease to bring you with happiness and peace.
May every part of you be filled and supported by the God of deep and patient love, this day and always.

Mom, Grandma, Meemaw, Gigi, we celebrate you, we love you, we give you our blessings and our hearts.

the garden

I didn’t have any scissors with me, so I pulled the sunflower blooms off the stems with my hands.  This was a mistake.  If I ever need to find a fibrous plant with which to braid a make-shift rope, I will probably use sunflower stems.

I was at the community garden plot I help out with sometimes, and I was stewing and worrying about a personal issue, lost in circular thoughts about potential misunderstandings, personal failures, and differing viewpoints.  I had rehearsed completed and potential conversations in my head, over and o
ver, sewing new seeds of fear and frustration with every weed I pulled.  But, even in the midst of my stewing, I couldn’t help loving and reveling in the light on the sunflowers and the tomato leaves and the cottonwood trees.  I felt at home in the light there, even as I worried and fretted.  Why is it that we love the evening light so much?  I would just speak for myself, but it seems to be a universal human condition.

My body was torn between the sinking feeling in my stomach and the euphoric feeling in my fingers as I plucked off ripe cherry tomatoes made brighter by the slant of the sun.  The breeze lifted my hair as I pruned the dead branches.  Turmoil and content wove together.

A return to the sunflowers.  I pulled and bent and twisted and tugged and even separated the fibers out so that I could work on one section at a time.  It’s worth menpicture-220_2tioning at this point that these were not sunflowers stolen from someone else’s garden plot; they were volunteer sunflowers growing out of the compost pile where I had dumped the fallen tomatoes and the shriveled leaves.  That seemed entirely fair game to me.  But these flowers didn’t want to be any kind of game.  They wanted to go on existing in the compost pile, free of human hands and jars of water.  And I felt just as determined to bring something of the garden’s peace back home with me.

I managed to get some of the blooms: five sunflowers, wrestled from the woody stalks that towered above the rotting plant clippings.  When I got home, I trimmed off the stringy remnants of our battle and put them in a water-filled mason jar.  They sat on my wooden dining table, dropping bright saffron pollen onto its dark, shiny surface.  I am grateful – they didn’t seem to regret their conquered position in my dining room.  Is it always such an act of violence to bring a living blossom into one’s home?  And was the violence against the flowers or against my own tumultuous insides?  Or was it instead an act of being present, of saying: I know that not even these flowers will last forever, but I choose to put them in a place where I will be forced to watch them move through time, and I will learn to love each fading petal and each curling leaf; I will embrace the dance of life and decay, of happiness and discomfort, of beauty and frustration.  It was not the flower I had to coax into my daily presence but my full attention.

Somehow, my memory of being in the garden that evening is peaceful and not anxiety-ridden.  Maybe it’s because the golden light surrounded everything and held it together.  Maybe it’s because my situation was resolved soon after. Or maybe it’s because plants must, in some way, absorb all our tension and place it in the ground, buried with the fertilizer and the loam, ready to be composted into something more life-giving.