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5th Sunday of Lent — April 3, 2022

Teri McDowell Ott’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

Psalm 126
Lent 5C

“Each of us yearns to belong. Within each human body is this deep, raw, aching desire” writes author and psychotherapist Resmaa Menakem in My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies.

Menakem calls attention to our vagus nerve — the unifying organ of our entire nervous system; a highly complex and sensitive organ that links the brain with the neck, heart, lungs and abdomen. This “soul nerve,” Menakem writes, does not connect to our thinking brain. Rather, the vagus nerve sends visceral messages through our body that we are safe or unsafe and transmits instinctive impulses to fight, flee or freeze — or relax, settle, and feel at home. “When you feel your heart opening or closing down; when you feel anxious in the pit of your stomach; when you sense that something wonderful or terrible is about to happen; when something feels right or wrong in your gut; when your heart sinks; when your spirit soars … all of these involve your soul nerve.”

Our ancestors of faith were unaware of the biomechanics of the soul nerve. Yet they developed and passed on practices like singing, humming, chanting, rocking and dancing that helped their bodies settle and sustained their connection as a community even in the midst of pain, confusion and suffering. Doing these practices together, Menakem reports, are powerfully grounding and soothing, satisfying our bodies’ yearning to connect and belong.

Psalm 126 sings of an embodied faith. God guides us not only through our intellect but also our bodies and nerves. This psalm recalls the return of God’s people from exile, the return of those who had been forced from their homes, who had gone out weeping and sown foreign fields with their tears. These physical acts of grief – weeping, crying, wandering – give way to shouts of joy, laughter, and songs of praise as the returned people worship the God who brought them, body and spirit, home.

As a psalm of ascent, the Israelites processed up the hill to the Temple collectively singing the words of Psalm 126. The climb to the Temple was arduous, the singing more and more a strain as the hill grew steeper. But they pressed forward together, footfall by footfall, resisting gravity’s downward pull as they sang their way toward their hoped-for home.

Reading the words of Psalm 126 today, my mind turns to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of their homes. Every night, my eyes are glued to the television screen to witness how they are fairing. My heart pounds in despair over the scenes of destruction, children’s tears, the stoic faces of struggling mothers. I have gasped, witnessing an elderly woman sleeping in a subway car, a musician playing her piano one last time before fleeing her bombed-out apartment, a wounded journalist on a stretcher, leaning into the camera, eyes wide with urgency, reporting that his colleague has been shot and killed. My hands to my lips, I close my eyes and rock back and forth on my feet, my body my prayer for these people, these bodily siblings. My desire is their desire, my prayer is their prayer. Peace. Safety. Security. Home.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What feelings stir within you as you read this passage?
  2. Reflect on the embodied practices of your faith community. How does your body feel at home in this space? How does your body know it belongs?
  3. When you consider God’s people who are suffering in exile, pay attention to your heart, your breathing, your hands your feet. How does your body pray for others? How do we belong to each other in body and spirit?

To print, use this .pdf version: LITL_March28

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