“I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.” – Mother Teresa
Fixed in my gaze are two single stars that hang in the black sky as if preparing to fall into the dazzling smile of a bright crescent moon. Sitting on a back porch and sipping hot mint tea, I hear the song “Silent Night” in my heart. Imagining the voices of a choir of angels, I begin to hum, mesmerized by the playfulness in the sky.
Silent lights in the dark, peace in the midst of chaos. My brain wanders, and I dream of where Love is leading my husband and me, our family, as well as our nation, this holiday season.
The weight of daily disappointments and the shock of heartbreaking news, including illnesses and deaths of loved ones, COVID, politics, and civil unrest, have taken their toll on many. I, too, have felt the heaviness of collective suffering and exhaled my own deep sigh of sorrow.
Add to this the responsibilities and relationships inside our homes…marriages, families, and friendships. Is it any wonder there are minutes in our days where relief comes through gasps of air?
The abrupt constrictions of our air and freedom during 2020 have redirected us onto a new road filled with a plethora of possible choices, and our decisions ostensibly carry the potential of life and death. Masks? No Masks? Touch? No touch? Red? Blue? Tests? No Tests? Heavy.
Creating beauty while navigating life in the wake of being thrust into a new normal is disorienting. The compass arrow, once still, is set spinning and out of control. Connection through six feet of distance or faces on computer screens, not to mention social media and television, is necessary for connection. We are all looking down into phones and horizontal into screens while navigating this new road.
I miss looking into the eyes of others.
Deeply inhaling the cool night air, I lift my own tired eyes to the sky. Noticing one of the two stars is missing, I smile, imagining it has been birthed by the earth’s spin into a new horizon. Feeling playful, I marvel at the whimsy of God in the smiling moon.
Earlier in the evening, I sat face-to-face with seven incredibly brave women on Zoom, our mouths unmasked and our voices speaking stories of our bodies. Considered “unspeakable secrets” in our current culture, our conversations were holy, our eyes intentional, and our hearts giving and receiving grace. A breath of fresh air in the heavy.
This book study group, offered through the Red Tent Living Collaborative, has been a space that has inspired my soul, affirmed my voice, and set the arrow of my personal compass, leading me further down this road less travelled—a road of love and belonging with valiant female companions travelling together.
Every Monday evening for eight weeks, author Christy Bauman has led us through her book, Theology of The Womb: Knowing God through the Body of a Woman. Unmasked faces of women with passionate and tender hearts, engaging eyes, and strong smiles grace my screen. Each week, the grid of their framed faces reminds me of the sitcom “The Brady Bunch” and prompts a smile.
Far from a cast of performing characters, I join authentic women from across the country to gather around a virtual Red Tent table. Christy’s tenacious courage offers us a sacred invitation to voice the stories of our bodies and our generational roots. Together, we each take turns sharing the life-and-death stories of our wombs. The study is incredibly eye opening, freeing, and inspiring:
“Because there is sparse education on the ideas of red tent living, we must use our imaginations to understand God’s intention of women bleeding in community. For it is in this communal rite of passage within the red tent that one learns how to sing the song of the womb.” Theology of The Womb: Knowing God through the Body of a Woman, Christy Bauman
Hope has seized my heart with tender strength and begun to nurture the deeper spaces of my heart.
Now, resting in the light of a star and the smile of a crescent moon, my heart overflows with gratitude and delight.
Distancing, isolation, and tension in relationships appear to be robbing us of our Hope and suffocating our Joy. Our mouths, covered in masks, muffle our words and silence our smiles. Choices of connection seem stifling, but on the porch, joined by a community of women’s faces singing with me in the silence of the night, my heart rests with Hope.
As a spiritual counselor, I am often intrigued by new discoveries of science in connection to the body’s language. Curious about a smile, my research revealed the Duchenne smile. It is a smile strong enough to energize the muscles in the face to reach up and cause wrinkling corners of crow’s feet in the corner of our eyes. Bless crow’s feet!
Even wearing a mask, our eyes can reveal a smile that science has proven supplies the same level of brain stimulation of up to 2,000 chocolate bars!
Dreaming on the back porch, my heart full of Hope, I notice that my cup overflows with the blessing of women’s voices softly humming together under the canopy of the Red Tent and savoring the sweetness of 2,000 chocolate bars. I hold the desire to create life and beauty with a vision to play.
This holiday season, may we all be seized by Hope’s invitation to look up in the dark to discover a star shining a light on this road less travelled. Together, may we follow Love, with smiling eyes of delight, tenderly and courageously curious about our own stories and our bodies that bear them.
Ellen Oelsen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband of thirty years. She is a mother of four children and one grandchild. She is a spiritual counselor with Restoration Counseling, and her hobbies include cooking, nature, reading, plays, and two-stepping. She delights in offering hospitality of the heart and creating spaces of care, rest, play, and reflection to inspire hope. She is beginning to expose the writer within her.