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Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Eucharistic Revolution of Self-Care

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August 8, 2021: The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19:4-8
Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 4:30 - 5:2
John 6:41-51

A reflection by delfín bautista

We need theologies of self-care, more specifically, critically, and urgently we need trauma informed eucharistic theologies of struggle and resilience! 

Now, let me explain and explore this proclamation through today’s readings.

In church spaces, activist spaces, and/or church activist spaces, conversations around self-care and communal-care are often neglected or minimized. In all four of today’s readings, the Sacred reveals, re-reveals, and reminds us of the importance of caring for ourselves and each other on our journeys of challenge and celebration. 

In First Kings, Goddess speaks through an angel and tells Elijah to eat and drink (and sleep)—the angel even prepares and provides the food and water! It appears that Elijah is burned out. Perhaps he is tired of not being listened to, perhaps troubled because his work is being exploited by those with privilege, perhaps he is done with dealing with the Biblical equivalents of white, cisgender, and/or heterosexual fragility.  He is exhausted on so many levels that he wants to give up. However, Goddess has something else in mind. Through the angel, Goddess creates a space of solidarity where Elijah can refuel, recharge, rekindle, and recommit to being a microphone for the divine. Who are the angels in our lives who nudge us, nag us, pester us to take better care of ourselves? Are we listening to the whispers and shouts of self-care?  How are we being angels to ourselves and for others?

Self-care is more than just trips to the spa. These are nice, but are not equitable, accessible, or sustainable for many of us. As reflected in the reading, we nourish our bodies, hearts, and spirits by disconnecting from social media for a time, placing boundaries on complicated relationships, and cultivating communities where we can be ourselves without shame. We allow the Sacred to nourish us when we practice rest-filled sleep hygiene, move away from our work to take a few moments to meditate, hydrate, and sometimes, like Elijah, just sit under a tree (or in a garden or on a park bench, or whatever we have access to). These are simple things we can do that inject the energy of care into and onto our journeys.

Taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other is a process where bloopers will happen.  That’s okay!  We must not shame or guilt ourselves when we make mistakes and start to feel burned out.  Rather than beating ourselves up, we need to recognize the burn out, heal through it, and learn from it.   Part of trauma-informed self-care is owning our pain (on our terms) and affirming how we have overcome it.  Trauma informed self-care is not about perfection. but about risking new behaviors, getting messy, and experimenting with different strategies that work for us. Strategies that we don’t have to justify or explain away.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, the author’s intention seems so clear: “Put away bitterness, wrath, anger, and wrangling.” But I want to unpack the meaning behind those words. I do not believe the author is asking us to deny or pretend that our sadness, doubt, hurt, or rage are not real; rather, to “put away” is an invitation to acknowledge, embrace, and resolve our traumatic experiences. Years ago, I used to see clients as a trauma therapist. We stressed the importance of confronting our traumatic experiences in order to put them in their proper place in our lives. We wanted to help people remove the destructive power that past events exercised on their present lives.  This is not about forgetting, but instead, recognizing that we lived through and overcame hardship. Things may not be perfect in this moment, but we can find the “oomph” to continue healing in the fact that we are survivors whose bodies are slowly but whole-heartedly moving toward thriving.

As Paul points out, one of the places to do this work is in community.  We need to be tender-hearted and kind with ourselves and with each other. As a community, we can create spaces of solidarity not only for those who are marginalized, but also for each other (we can create spaces for those marginalized parts of ourselves).  In these spaces we are present to each other as we learn and re-learn to embrace the sacred messiness in each of us. It is not about fixing each other but about being witnesses to each other as we sort through pain and anger in order to tap into them for the strength to not let trauma define us.  When we create beloved community, when we create church, when we create communion, we define ourselves as bigger than our traumas.

And now to Psalm 34 and John’s Gospel.  We are all going through stuff, and we are all finding ways to overcome the stuff.  In all of the readings this week, but especially in the Psalm and the Gospel, we can explore the nourishment we receive in communion.  I am mindful that communion tables are problematic spaces for many, including myself.  Not all of us feel welcome or embraced even when the table is said to be open to all. Both the psalmist and gospel writer reflect on the experience of “tasting and seeing the goodness of our God” and embracing / becoming one with the Bread of Life.  Neither the psalm nor the gospel says that we must forget who we are or only bring pieces of ourselves to the Table; rather, we are invited to bring the entirety of ourselves. We are encouraged to find refuge and to find life by honoring both our struggles and resilience. We are invited to communion to fully taste and see – with our traumas and our thriving – to fully savor the whole person created in the image, diversity, and wow-ness of Goddess. 

I confess that I am struggling with many of the recent debates around who can receive communion. Some of the responses on all sides of the debate emphasize our brokenness, sinfulness, and imperfections. Yes, we are broken, but we are also whole.  I am not advocating for removing conversations around sin, but not to equate hardship with sin or undermine the internalized badassery we embody when we live through difficulties.  Communion is not a cure-all nor a fix-all magical pill; it is an invitation, challenge, calling, opportunity to be in union with Goddess and with each other in our messy, holy wholeness.  We commune with the One who, like us, has been in the wilderness so that we might boldly live into and live out our thriving. 

Audre Lorde prophetically said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”  I would slightly delfinize her words: “Caring for myself and others is not indulgence, it is self and communal preservation, and this is an act of eucharistic revolution.”

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delfín is a native of Miami, FL of Cuban and Salvadoran heritage.  delfín currently lives in Athens, OH with their beloved of 18 years while discerning the next ministerial adventure. A social worker and activist theologian, delfín is passionate about intersectional justice and resilience, especially around the experiences of queer people of color. delfín is a past member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and Trans Caucus and currently serves on the Vision Council for Call To Action. 
delfín w. bautista, they/ them/elles/mx or just delfín.

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