by Kelly Sherman-Conroy
“The only thing that is constant is change.” This is a quote from a Greek philosopher. I don’t think I need to quote a Greek philosopher for any of us to know that this is true. God never intended for creation to stay stagnant. Every part of creation is always in constant change, and although we may try to resist it, change happens. After a year of constant unknowns and life changes, we know that it is difficult to face change in the midst of grieving as we have done this year.
For myself I have begun to find a sense of belonging and purpose amongst the change that I have had this year. I will admit, this route has taken some courage. In the past, change has always been scary for me, and often I held tightly to that fear of the unknown. Resisting the unknown can be highly unproductive, and often can bring us more challenges.
However, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Cherokee Elder. Within us we have the choice to face life or walk away in fear. It is important for us to face those fears, because those experiences of the loss, heartache and sadness can give us strength. These challenges, the changes we experience in life are not trying to pull us down, they are actually trying to make us stronger.
God created us to as this beautiful masterpiece. The “us” is all of creation. So intricately created to be solitary yet connected. This understand of how we are connected to everything around us, can give a stronger sense of belonging. Knowing that when change in our lives approaches, we are not alone. No matter how weary we could be on our journey, God created us to be connected to the world around us to help us find healing and discern these changes that happen. As we boldly step into change, we learn and grow which also gives us a deeper sense of meaning.
As Christians, we know that God is at work in the world. Change not only means that we can grow emotionally through our experience, but that we most certainly can find room for spiritual growth as well. Each part of creation that goes through change experiences the meaning and purpose within that change that allows us to embark on new spiritual journeys.
In our lifetime, we go through many changes. What is something that we can do, that can help us understand and appreciate the many changes we have experienced? This is a spiritual practice that not only I have used for myself, but also with youth. Oftentimes, we go through so much change, we lose sight of who we are—a loss of identity. But instead of thinking of the change as loss, we can again think of the connection to the rest of creation to help us understand. God created us all as these beautiful works of art. We are each unique. I like to think of myself as a living canvas that is constantly being painted upon.
I once asked a youth, if you were to think about yourself as a canvas, and your experiences were the paint, what would your canvas look like? I will never forget the response. They told me that there would be no art because the beauty of who they thought they were was covered by all the messiness of the other paints. But what if we corrected that narrative? Instead of seeing all the pain, grief and change that has happened in their lives as messiness, why not see it as ever-changing art? That each experience we have is a beautiful stroke of paint. It’s not that we become a messy canvas; we actually add to the beauty of who we are.
Begin by drawing an outline of you. Then write down or cut out (using magazines, newspapers, etc.) the different words that describe how you have felt. Once that is done, paste them inside the outline. Take paints or markers or whatever colors you have, start to think about the changes that have happened in your life—the good, the bad and the unknown. As you think of each one, assign that change, or that experience, a color. One at a time, use each color and begin to doodle or draw designs. When you are done, you will have a beautifully created piece of art—YOU! The most important part about this spiritual practice is that you are naming the change you have gone or will be going through. You are telling your story. And that is an important part of understanding the change in our lives. Stories give us the ability to hear what needs to be said and open us up to healing.
We have been called as Christians to a life of radical transformation. God has shown us, through creation around us, the various ways to be transformed. The world around us teaches us. Just as we learned with Jesus, there is more to the story. Thinking about change, I like to use the resurrection story in the Gospel of Matthew to help me reflect. Jesus’ story was not over. He was raised from the dead by God and is eternally present through the Holy Spirit. Jesus showed us how to faithfully walk to a path of transformation and experience real change. Think about those last words Jesus said: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Through the changes in our lives that we experience, we know that we never walk alone.
Isn’t it beautiful the connections we can find when we stop and truly see the world around us. Growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I was surrounded by my elders who taught me so much. It took me until now to understand some of their life lessons. You see, Native elders will never tell you what you need to hear. They will tell you a story, and it is up to you to hear what you need to hear. Over time you can think of that story and it may have a different meaning. That is why storytelling is so sacred. The wisdom never leaves the story, just as we learn through scripture. You can read it one day and hear one thing, and you could come back to that same scripture months later and it completely talks to you in a new way. Jesus taught us through stories the same way my elders did. Jesus shared his wisdom and gave us compassion and restoration. Through the story of our lives as we navigate change, we can find redemption, courage, faith, wisdom, purpose and belonging. All of these help us as we walk on a path towards change so we can begin to be transformed for the unknown that is ahead of us.
Currently based in 📍Minnesota, USA. Kelly Sherman-Conroy is a Native American Theologian who walks with people of all cultures. She dedicates her time exploring with people around the world with the intersections of identity, personal narratives, faith, and healing through an Indigenous lens.
Kelly is an adventurer who honors her Indigenous ancestors by inspiring people to make a difference. Intrigued by theology, traveling, photography, music, advocacy, writing, art, armchair philosophy, fabulous food, and even better conversations (enjoying the beauty of learning and speaking diverse languages).
Seeking to be inspired, to envision the unlikely, to work hard for things that are worth it, and to be surrounded by those who bring out the best in her.
Categories: January 2021: "Holding Loosely"