After four and a half hours on the road, my buddy and I rolled into our camp where we would be leaving his car for the next 4 days as we hiked 80 miles back (at least that was the plan). It was already dark when we found what we presumed would be a deserted parking lot and campsite. But no matter, all we needed was to set up tents, get some sleep and await our ride to deliver us to the trailhead in the morning.
Instead, we rolled into a Rainbow Gathering. Well, not actually a Rainbow Gathering, more of a pre-gathering for a regional gathering. (A note, for the 99% of you who have no idea what I’m talking about: the Rainbow Family of Living Light is a loosely affiliated group of individuals who are committed to principles of egalitarianism and free expression. At least that’s the nicest way to say it. Another would be the Rainbow Family is a group of washed up hippies who do a lot of drugs, panhandle and live in national parks, moving campsite to campsite.)
“Welcome home. My name is Random. If you want to join us to smoke some pot, drink a little, eat something…what we have is yours, dude. If you have something to share, bring it on over, if not, that’s cool too.”
So after we set up our tents we walked over and met Ari, Peace, Red, Random and the others.
“Hi, I’m Hugs,” one said.
My buddy reached out his hand, “I’m Justin, nice to meet you.”
“I don’t think Hugs is going to shake your hand,” I laughed, as she leaned in for an uncomfortably long, earthy embrace.
We were most definitely out of our element. But, people are people and most people are decent enough, and they graciously showed us around their campsite, offered us food (that we declined after they informed us that most of it had been procured via “dumpster diving”), gave us a nip of whisky and even offered to roll us cigarettes. We asked a bunch of questions about their lifestyle, the Rainbow family, and the upcoming gathering. They insisted that we come back in October for their gathering “somewhere deep in the forest of the national park, location still to be determined.”
Later, while Justin talked to Ari, learning that his current “profession” is making “pornographic balloon hats,” (I’m NOT making this up!) I sat next to Hugs around the fire, and she apologized to me over and over again for how drunk she was. “I don’t very often get drunk. I’m so sorry I’m like this. I need to drink some water.”
I assured her that it didn’t matter. “I don’t judge.”
“Yeah, I can tell that about you. You aren’t the kind of person who judges. What do you do for a living anyway? I mean, I don’t mean to be nosy, but are you a sell out? Are you an insurance agent or something?”
(Apparently, in Hugs’ hierarchy, being an insurance agent is the highest form of sellout. Apologies to my friends in the insurance business. Who knew?)
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I chortled. Then I told her. Then she swore. Then I swore back, to let her know that it’s okay. And she started talking about her life and I found out that her real name was Stephanie, and she was from Muncie, Indiana and she’s been hanging out with the Rainbow Family for about 6 years. And then she told me, “I believe that I’m blessed.”
I have a hard time with this word blessed. It’s thrown around so much by religious types. And often it’s used in the most trivial ways. “Short lines at the grocery store today. #blessed” “My kid made the honor roll! #blessed” “Just had an amazing meal at a restaurant. #blessed.”
And I know people are generally sincere when they say it, but sometimes it comes off sounding sectarian and at the same time callous, as if God is so busy blessing us wealthy Americans with more goodness that he’s somehow forgotten all the real problems in the world.
And so, in my home, “blessed” has come to be met by an eyeroll.
Yes, I am grateful. Yes, I want to acknowledge that everything is a gift, but at the same time, I don’t believe God looks down from heaven and asks himself all the time, “How can I make wealthy Americans happier today?”
So, in my own life, I’ve changed out blessed for words like “grateful,” “content,” and “at peace.” Or, if I want to get a little Bible-nerdy, I call it shalom – the Hebrew word for peace that stands for more than “not-at-war,” but rather a holistic sense completeness, goodness, and harmony both within oneself and in one’s world.
And this sense of shalom isn’t just about God paving my pathways with lollipops and gummi bears, but rather is written into the fabric of the universe, accessible to all. We are all of us beneficiaries of the shalom. After all, Jesus reminds us, in his famous Sermon on the Mountain, that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
And so, I believe that all of us are blessed. The offer to shalom extends throughout the universe to all who embrace it. Sure, there are some of us who swim in deeper shalom waters, who seem to know shalom in ways that the rest of us only aspire to. And there are those of us who are splashing in the shallows. But shalom is available to all of us at every given moment, in every conceivable circumstance. The task of spirituality is to wake up to it all around, at every moment.
After Hugs declared her blessedness I paused for just a second. Then I said the truest thing I could say, the thing that felt most right. I’ve never said this to someone quite like this and I’ve never actually articulated out loud what has been rumbling in me for quite-some-time.
I smiled at her and said “Yes, Hugs, I too believe you are blessed.”
It’s been a week since we sat by the fire. In all likelihood our paths will never cross again. But, after a week’s thought here’s what else I wish I had said.
I believe you are blessed because God’s goodness and love flow all around us all the time. I don’t believe in the angry, wrathful, vengeful God that some preach as the “heart of the gospel.” Rather, I believe God loves the whole world and is graciously, generously calling us all home, calling us to shalom. And in this gritty, dark life where injustices dominate the headlines, I believe we are invited to seek out the shalom in the cracks, in the unexpected graces, and in the everyday. And this experience of shalom isn’t just so I can tweet out how I’m #blessed, but rather serves as the force that drives me into the world to practice the shalom in a way that makes it easier and more accessible to all.
So today, Hugs, keep finding your shalom, wherever you can, and when you do, pass it on.If you liked this post, please share it!