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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tender and Strong

by Lauren Van Ham

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Matthew 19:14, NIV

It crept up on me, the effect of what was happening.  Tears were wetting my cheeks before I understood why I was so moved.  I was watching the South African singing ensemble, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  For thirty minutes or more they’d been singing a series of simple, looping melodies, layered with the buttery harmonies and rhythms of their blended voices alone.  No other instruments, no fancy costumes.  Just nine men, standing side-by-side and singing….and occasionally, dancing – a simple swaying movement, a little jump, perhaps, and then, giggling.  Yes, giggling!  Nudging and joking with one another playfully.  The throng of these men, standing and singing with passion and joy, was unquestionably masculine and strong.  They exuded presence and confident leadership.  Their voices, solo and united, were commanding.  And their playful interaction with one another was refreshingly innocent, free from competition or any “poking fun at,” for the sake of a cheap win.

That’s when I got it – the powerful image of male energy, strong AND tender…. and how, in the Western world, it’s not modeled much.  It’s not limited to males, I suppose.  Afterall, as a female, I use a lot of my masculine energy to “push” through the world.  But it isn’t the only way, is it?

Years ago, when I was in India, I visited a shop where the shop-keeper had two posters on the wall behind him. On the left was Mahatma Gandhi, bare-chested and at his most frail.  On the right was Arnold Schwarzenegger, also bare-chested and wrapped in ammunition.  “Tell me about this,” I invited, gesturing to the posters.  The shop owner smiled and with an Indian nod explained, “Both strong men.  Different reasons.”


It is the second week of Lent, a period of spiritual discipline and determination.  It strikes me that the 40 days before Easter are an invitation to watch for and live with strength and tenderness.  A few examples….

The daffodils bravely pushing their way through the not-quite melted snow
The life of man who over-turned tables in a temple, and welcomed children to his side
A message that there is a love that is stronger even than death; a love that offers miraculous, sustaining hope to us all.

During Lent we are encouraged to give up or take on certain practices so that we might better appreciate the dimensions of Jesus’ willing sacrifice.  Certainly, if this is undertaken with a sense of martyrdom, we’ve missed the point.  The fine balance in our Lenten routines might then be to find strength in our resolve and joy (tenderness) in our effort.  What does this look like for you?  How, in your life, with your family, at your work, do you experience your strength and your tenderness?

About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

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