Calling Things What They Are

It is said that the native people of this land we now call America called March’s full moon the Worm Moon because of the softening of the earth and the reappearance of earthworm casts (aka poo), which enrich the soil and get it ready for the spring season’s growth. It seems there have been months of hardness, both in climate and societal mood. For many folks, this societal hardness is nothing new, but for those of us who’ve been operating from a place of undeserved advantage, we may be waking up to a reality that went previously unnoticed.

As we head into warmer months, the Earth softens to receive and compost all that looks like decay on her surface (like worm poo!), and use it to give life to trees and birds and flowers and us. She softens and then shows us her immense creative force, a cacophony of color and song, all seeming to say over and over again: Renewal!

We are also entering into the Lenten season. I did not grow up observing Lent, and I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I was that “helpful” person on the subway who would tell a stranger they had a smudge on their forehead, before being quietly reminded it was Ash Wednesday. My uninformed understanding of Lent was that it was a time when Christians prayed a lot, thought a lot about sin, gave up foods they loved, and gave to charity, all in service of penance. (To be fair, I thought this for reasons having to do with how I saw it being lived out.)

Imagine my curiosity when I learned a vision of Lent that is about calling things what they are. Not what we imagine them to be, not what we wish they were, but what they are. In other words: justice. Justice to Spirit, justice to Self, justice to each other.  Given our culture’s focus on criminality and punishment, we tend to think of justice in terms of getting what is deserved. We’ve forgotten as a people that justice is far simpler than that; it’s taking a long hard look at the real, and naming it. (There are of course consequences with clear-sightedness, but the consequences do not in and of themselves constitute justice.)

Simple does not mean easy, though, and taking a long hard look at the real is inherently an invitation to come face to face with paradox, which challenges us intensely. I’d say that the current state of our nation is a testament to what happens when we spend decades refusing to do just that as a society and as individuals. For folks who benefit from our current systems, it is so easy to choose not to deal with unpleasant things or to refuse to see things as they really are because doing so is too difficult or painful or complicated.

And these are indeed difficult, painful, and complicated times. It is important to acknowledge that they have been for hundreds of years for a large portion of people in this country who do not benefit from- and are oppressed by – our current systems. What’s different in this cultural moment is that there are a lot of people who benefit from these systems who are finally seeing them, the damage they’ve done and continue to do, and are being given an opportunity to do justice.

But doing justice – calling things what they are – is going to require a softening and a taking in. We can look to the Earth to show us the way. She softens, not because she is weak or relenting, but because she must in order to renew, rebirth, revive.

We’re going to have to be willing to take in the fullness of the pain, the injustice, the oppression, and allow it to break our hearts wide open. The heartache, the shame, the fear – all of it can be composted and transformed into renewal, but only if we are willing to do the long and hard work of justice.

This work starts with some uncomfortable questions. How are we in relationship to all that is? How are we relating to the world? How are we relating to the Divine? How are we relating to ourselves?  How are we relating to power and privilege and oppression? Is there space for us to soften, release our attachment to how we perceive things, and listen deeply to the stories of others? Asking the questions isn’t the work itself, but it begins when we open ourselves to listen to the response.

Listening deeply – to the whispers of the Divine, to our own inner knowing, and to each other – requires a commitment to a love ethic. It means “making choices based on a belief that honesty, openness, and personal integrity need to be expressed in public and private decisions.” (bell hooks, All About Love) It means loving justice and using all that we have and all that we are in its service. 

May we all hold each other in love and accountability as we do this hard work together. May we soften towards each other, towards ourselves, and towards the Divine as we listen with a willingness to be changed by what we hear. May we join the Earth’s cacophony of creative force, as we imagine a new way forward.

V