religion

A Green Mango Pilgrimage – Part 1- Devil’s Tower

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My life is in Haiti right now. But sometimes I have to travel back to the US and when I do my time is usually filled with fundraisers, meetings, and administrative catch up. When I’m lucky I get to invest some time in making art and visiting with friends and family. But my time in the US seldom includes room for investing in my own spiritual well being or exploring new ways of experiencing God in different spaces and environments. This time back to the US I have made a decided commitment to change that. All of those other things that I have to do require me to do quite a bit of traveling and so I’m adding it to my agenda in each new place that I pass through to visit a certain sacred space and spend some time encountering the unique holy histories that exist in each one. Although this is a personal journey, I believe that we never truly can experience God ourselves unless we are willing to discover and affirm the ways that the Sacred presents itself to other humans who are each on their own journeys as well. So I will be sharing my experiences here on the blog in the hopes that others can find something of value in what I learn myself. Feeling the journey is primary, but sharing it will also be important to me.

This is something that I’ve felt propelled to do for some time now, but last week I decided to officially start the pilgrimage while in South Dakota by making a visit to Devil’s Tower (actually in Wyoming), which is considered a sacred site by many native tribes including the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Sioux. It seemed like an appropriate genesis for my journey considering the traditional stories attached to it are about transformation, escape, and rebirth. The legends vary slightly from tribe to tribe but are all similar:

Seven young children were out playing one day, collecting flowers and berries, and chasing antelope. They had wandered far from home following where nature led them when they realized that they were lost. They looked all around, each pointing in different directions, but they could not find the way home. Then one of the children noticed a giant bear coming towards them and yelled to the others. They all turned to run away as fast as they could and the bear chased them swiftly running behind. After running as far as they could they slowed and found that even more bears were now closing in on them, all great and terrifying. With no where to run they knew that they would soon be devoured by the bears so they all gathered close together and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. The Great Spirit had pity on them and the ground beneath them began to tremble and raise up from the earth. The bears dug their claws into the rock tower trying to climb it as it rose into the sky but they only slid down it as it continued to rise with the children on top higher and higher out of the bears’ reach. The children now rose into the sky and the Great Spirit turned them into the constellation Pleiades, which still shine over the tower and the plains every night.

IMG_2401This is a powerful narrative to me. Anyone who’s read my book knows how much I love a good metaphor of people turning into stars. So I went up there last week to get in touch with the sacred energy that exists there and spend some time reflecting on what it means to be lost and desperate for salvation in this world. I had driven past the tower from a distance before but never had actually been up to the base on the hiking trail to spend time within the hallowed environment there. And yet, it is difficult to truly call it hallowed because it is indeed a sacred space, but it has also been turned into a tourist attraction as well. So one must be very intentional to find the Sacred there despite the tourists and the rock climbers and the guides. But if you go with that intention, and take a step off of the trail and just take a deep breath, then it is impossible to deny that you are in the presence of something holy and powerful. And I think that whenever you do have to opportunity to stand in that presence, you must allow yourself to surrender to whatever the Spirit has to say to you.

So I took the chance and found a large rock to sit behind for some meditation where no guide could yell at me for leaving the trail and I wouldn’t be able to hear the tourists talking about their zumba classes and kids’ last weeks at school. I had to take a moment to escape from the bears that may be chasing me down in this world. Sometimes living in Haiti and trying to do work that you know is good can feel like that. So many outside forces constantly after you, impossible to escape, and everyday you feel like they’re about to devour you. It makes you want to cry out to the Great Spirit, “I don’t get it! I just came out here to pick berries and now I’m running for my life! I just want to go home!” But then you realize that the Great Spirit is made of Love and will lift you up, place you in the sky, and give you a new home. Salvation when you’re lost. But in order for any of us to find that new home ourselves, we must first find the place within ourselves where the Great Spirit may be at home.  As I continue to visit other sacred locations within this world, I think that the real part of the journey will be discovering the sacred space that resides within me and being more conscious of what I allow into it. Those other influences can keep clawing away, trying to get at me, but I have to make a covenant with myself to continue rising above.

IMG_2386One of the greatest parts of praying at Devils Tower is knowing that you’re not alone. All around the tower are prayer cloths tied to the branches of trees. Traditional practice by native tribes of the area, these cloths are left behind so that their surroundings may be anointed by the prayers and intentions of the maker and act as a blessing to those who may come into that space after them. It serves as an inspiration to me, a solitary sojourner, to see these remnants of other people’s sacred encounters in that place. Although I don’t know who they are or what they prayed for and they don’t know me, I know that they were there with the same Spirit that I am there and they left behind a blessing that I am now a part of.  They don’t kneed to know what tribe I am from or what name I have for my God or the Spirit that we are connected through, with their prayer cloths, they welcome me into that space to commune with the sacred energy of nature and humanity. They invite me to draw my eyes upward, gaze into the heavens, and discover salvation. Discover peace.

I am not sure where my next step in this pilgrimage will land, but I hope that you will continue to join me as I journey. If you have any suggestions of places I should visit, I’d love to hear them. For now, if you do get the chance to visit Devils Tower, please take it and know that behind a large rock on the south side of tower there is a prayer left for you from me.

 

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God is a Fashion Diva

Disclaimer: Please don’t get bent out of shape about the gender infused pronouns used in this post. Our English language has its limits and forces us to attach genders to things that shouldn’t be gendered. If I was writing in Creole, I wouldn’t have that problem. I chose feminine pronouns here just because of my choice of the noun “diva”. That does not mean that I think God is a woman or that fashion is only for women.

This is for all of those out there who like to respond to my fashion posts with the irrefutable, “Oh yeah? Well Jesus doesn’t care what I wear, he knows my heart.” I wanted to take a moment and introduce everyone to the God that I find when I read my Bible. She is a TOTAL fashion diva! I understand that part of the divine mystery of God is how She appears differently to each individual that believes in Her, so I realize some people might think I’m crazy for making such claims, but it seems clear to me that God didn’t create humans just so we could ignore the power of Style. It may not seem like the most important aspect of who God is, what with all of the problems in the world that She created, but I can’t read Her Word without being convinced of Her great love for that world so much that she wants her children to look fierce while we’re living in it. For real, She started showing just how fabulous She is from the very beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden.

Genesis 3:6,7 –

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

What was, in fact, the very first thing that humans did when they gained wisdom? Made clothes. The highest priority for those who had suddenly been made wise was not solving math equations, inventing tools, trying to decipher psychology, organizing government and civilization, discerning deep spiritual truths, or even trying to help one another; it was sewing together clothing. Those first few fig leaves sewn together represented the first steps that have now evolved to the highest couture that we see walking the runways of Paris, Milan, and New York. God has shown us that the epitome of wisdom is materialized in fashion design. In fact, it is so important to Her that God just couldn’t see Her precious creations walking around in those fig leaves for long. They were so last season. No, the Lord God is such a diva that She had to show them what the hottest fabrics were for the dawn of creation. Just a few verses later She demonstrates from the beginning the timeless versatility of leather.

Genesis 3:21,22 –

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Long before giving us humans the gift of Her Son to forgive our sins, God gave us the gift of fashion. But this fashion diva doesn’t stop there and let Her people run off and wear whatever short shorts, cargo pants, safari gear, and matching t-shirts that they want without at least some strong advice against it. She continually peppers Her Word with clear reminders of just how important it is for us humans to carefully consider the items that we put on our body. In Proverbs, for example, we see that noble character isn’t found only in the good intentions of the heart, but in the the fabrics that adorn our bodies.

Proverbs 31: 10, 20 – 25 –

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

In this passage we see that charity, respect, strength, dignity, and even joy are inseparable from fashion. If a good heart was all that mattered, then this passage could end after verse 20, where the woman helps the poor and needy, but no, it goes on to show that she and her family are clothed in the finest linens of the most beautiful colors and she even makes sure that everyone else has the fiercest garments and the hottest sashes to wear. As long as you’re clothed like a boss, you’ve got nothing to fear, because God dwells within the strength and dignity that comes from that. She created us to care about ourselves and how we look. She didn’t make us beautiful, extravagant creatures just so we could ugly up Her masterpiece with crappy clothes from the recycling bin. She also created us each to be unique children of Hers in Her own image but still each one different, so why would we ever want to hide that creativity that She invested in each of us by wearing something that matches everyone else or just makes us blend in? She created us to be filled with the utmost joy and goodness but if we believe that, then we must dress as vessels worthy enough to embody such a gift.

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I’m pretty sure this is some sort of lily.

But God’s focus on fashion doesn’t stop with the Old Testament where all the rules are kept. She walks that catwalk right on through the New Testament as well. Even during Jesus’ ministry he proves that he, in all of his tolerance and love, did not come to the earth just so that he could become our scapegoat for poor fashion choices. He was not only frequently criticizing those who overdressed in order to set them apart from the common people, like the Pharisees and kings, but also advised his apostles on specific ways to dress appropriately as they went out into service to the world (Luke 22:36). We may think that Jesus didn’t care about fashion because we’re used to seeing the contrived images of him in big white robes and plain old sandals, but Jesus was dressing in a way that made him most accessible and most relateable to those that the Great Fashion Diva Herself sent him to the earth to serve. He didn’t dress like a king but he didn’t dress like a beggar either. He didn’t dress in any way that set him apart yet still dressed in a way that honored the sacred creation that he represented. Jesus understood that his ministry was to be built on relationships, and warned about the dangers of allowing the clothing you wear to interfere with those relationships. He knew what it meant to consider the lilies (Matthew 6:28-30) which know how to embrace the beauty with which their Creator Diva has graced them with. Many people think that the lily verse proves that Jesus doesn’t care what we wear, but in context of the relationships he was building, this verse seems to show more how he simply wants us to have faith that he will provide what we need to wear in order that we may add beauty to our fabulous Creator’s garden. Of course, we can’t be completely like the lilies, otherwise we’d all be running around naked. Thanks to Adam and Eve, that’s not possible, so we have to find our own way towards achieving effortless, yet dignified fashion that is effective for whatever God has called us to.

Even Paul with all of his rules consistently made fashion a focus of his letters to his friends and churches that were trying to reflect the beauty of God. While encouraging their faith and deeds to speak for themselves, Paul would give specific guidelines as to what to do and not to do when dressing and accessorizing as to not allow their fashion to interfere with the ministry and service that they were intending to carry out in the world. (1 Timothy 2:9-10). It is our job now as the Church in this modern world to take these examples and see how we need dress in ways that do not interfere with our missions to our fellow brothers and sisters. How can we dress in ways that honor the splendid artistry with which we were created and still not distract from our service to others and our reflections of the image of God? How to do carry ourselves with a fearless faith in the Great Fashion Diva who knows our past, present, and future, and has promised to provide for us what we need to carry out the callings that She has placed on our lives?

Because the day will come when we will leave our life in this world behind along with all of the shopping malls and department stores that came with it. That doesn’t mean that the Diva won’t continue to make sure that we will be clothed in a way that represents all of our new found victory, worth, and glory. In the Word She drives Her point home right through the end.

Revelation 3: 4,5 –

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

I’m hoping that I’m living a life that will someday end in being clothed in that final white garment by my Diva God’s side. I hope that I’m living with enough faith that I’m aware of the Spirit’s presence with me even when I’m picking out clothes to put on each morning. Living in a way that reflects her image as the extraordinarily beautiful deity that She is, following the examples that she’s given me and not ignoring the resources that She’s provided us with to make and wear respectful, beautiful clothing. I think that even though She knows my heart because She’s the one that formed it with her own hands, She still smiles when She sees me looking good as I follow that heart through relationships and personal discovery in this fancy, fabulous world. And I smile knowing that She’s there with me through it all, possibly shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the fig leaves that I’ve donned wishing that I would put on that leather jacket already!