By The Rev. Callie Swanlund
Show up. Be Seen. Live Brave. This was the tagline of the training I completed with Brené Brown this past week in Texas. I spent a week with Brené and her team in order to become certified as a facilitator of the Daring Way, which is based on her research. You may know Brené from her TED talks or from her books; she is a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.
This week, I learned a great deal about vulnerability. Many of us might think of vulnerability as weakness, but Brené argues that vulnerability is in fact our best measure of courage. In her research, Brené collects data by listening to people’s stories. She asked people to finish the sentence, “Vulnerability is [blank.]” And here’s how people responded: Vulnerability is calling a friend whose child just died. Vulnerability is the first date after my divorce. Vulnerability is getting pregnant after three miscarriages. Vulnerability is waiting for the biopsy to come back. Vulnerability is bringing my new boyfriend home. Vulnerability is starting my own business. Vulnerability is signing up my mom for hospice care. Vulnerability is hearing how much my son wants to make first chair in the orchestra and encouraging him while knowing it's probably not going to happen. Vulnerability is falling in love.
Contrary to our first reaction that vulnerability is weakness, not a single one of these responses sounds weak, does it? No, it takes great courage to do that which God calls us to and to let others see our true selves, created in the image of God.
In our tradition, we have the perfect model of vulnerability: Jesus. Jesus opens himself up to love even when it means getting hurt. Jesus shares his truth even when he knows it’ll make others angry. Jesus gives of himself even when it might mean having nothing left. Then today, we hear of Jesus letting his light shine, even in the midst of darkness.
Leading up to this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus has just told his disciples that he will experience great suffering, including being rejected by those in power and being killed, only to rise again three days later. His disciple Peter doesn’t want to believe it could be true, so Jesus in turn spells out the potential cost of discipleship, which may include death to those who follow him. It is following this shocking revelation that Jesus takes Peter and James and John on a mountain top hike.
As Jesus is transfigured, he is the ultimate example of vulnerability. He takes trusted friends along and peels back the layers of himself to show his full, true identity. Standing on that mountain top, shining as the brightest light the world has ever seen, Jesus shows great authenticity and courage. In allowing his light to shine, Jesus’ friends - who in Mark’s gospel can be quite bumbling and daft - are finally certain that he is who who says he is: God’s son, the Beloved.
Following in Jesus’ footsteps, how do we show up, be seen, and live brave? How do we begin to practice vulnerability? It’s a process to be sure. But there are steps we can take. When Brené compiled her data, she noticed a pattern among men and women who were fully living and truly loving life. The faithful Episcopalian that she is, she borrowed a phrase from the confession in our Book of Common Prayer, in which we say “we have not loved you with our whole hearts.” The people loving with their whole hearts she labeled Wholehearted. “Wholehearted living,” Brené says, “is about . . . cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning thinking, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”1
One of the ways she suggests living into wholeheartedness is cultivating laughter, song, and dance as an antidote to the need to be “cool” and always in control. It is said that shamans, or medicine people, who were sought out when someone was feeling out of sorts or depressed or dispirited, would often ask one of these questions of the person: When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing?2
During my training, Brené had us laugh, sing, and finally dance together as a group to fully experience the increasing vulnerability of each action. She names dancing as full body vulnerability, claiming that the only thing more vulnerable would be to be naked. When we dance, there’s a fear that we might be perceived as uncool or out of control. I totally resonate with this fear - I could never be one of those people who is hired to dance around with a sign at a busy intersection in order to draw in business, even if it came with a million dollar paycheck. I am an uncomfortable dancer, feeling very uncoordinated and self-conscious. And yet, that said, there are few things better in life than a family dance party in my living room. Yesterday my 4-year-old taught me a dance move she’s calling the Volcano, and we both rocked out to it until we collapsed into giggles. In these moments, the fear of being out of control or looking ridiculous dissipates and it is this lack of control and care-freeness that I love most. Think of those moments when you overhear a stranger with a laugh so hearty and genuine that you can’t help but join her in laughter. Or when you pull up to a stoplight and notice that the driver next to you is singing at the top of his lungs and using the steering wheel as a drum set, and you can’t help but grin. In embracing their vulnerability, they endear themselves to you, and you are emboldened to be more courageous in your own life.
Since the season of Lent begins this Wednesday, I will share with you that my Lenten discipline this year is to dance every day. I know we often think of Lenten disciplines as stripping away, as fasting from something we enjoy. But what if this year, we were to choose something that would help us become more vulnerable, more courageous? Something that would help us show up, be seen, and live brave. Something that would remind us that we are God’s beloved children and so, so worthy of love.
As you experience the joy of this Sunday Gras, wherein we feast before the fast, [with music, and food, and conversation], pay attention to the feeling of your heart opening more fully and think about how you might cultivate wholeheartedness and vulnerability through laughter, song, and dance this Lent.
May we imagine ourselves on that mountain top, Jesus dazzling us with his brightness, his authenticity, his true self. And may we also let our inner light shine. Let us show up, be seen, and live brave.
1. Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
2. The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary
The Reverend Callie Swanlund Serves as Associate for Formation and Family Ministry at Servant Year Supporting Congregation Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and as a Servant Year Mentor.