Monthly Archives: February 2012

Guest Post: 3 Must-haves for Lent: Part 2

My friend Jenn Cannon has graciously agreed to share her experience of fasting during this Lenten season and its impact on her body theology. If you missed it, check out Part 1. You can find more of her writing here.

Many people, in modern Christianity, have taken the idea of a fast during Lent and tried to turn it into a positive action.  Instead of simply abstaining from certain foods, people are opting to try another way to express the same idea without the physical side-effects.  As an example: my former pastor gives up his morning Starbucks and all fast food and then donates the funds that he has saved to his favorite charity.

Unhealthy Fasting

As I have journeyed to get healthier in the last 8 months, I have found that I cannot outright deny myself a certain food without the danger of a binge looming on the horizon.  If I tell myself I cannot have chocolate for 40 days (or 46 depending on how you count it), I will most certainly have a meltdown and gorge at the end when I finally allow myself the chocolate – or I will be frantically trying to find something else to fill that need.

Either way – I lose sight of the meaning of the fast, and also do myself more harm than good.  Many people who are journeying back to health will tell you the same horror stories – fasting from any certain thing is a recipe for a binge.

Healthy Fasting

So I have learned to eat things in moderation.  Great.  But then what am I supposed to do about Lent?  If I want to participate in the spiritual journey of preparing myself for the coming sacrifice of Christ, what then can I do instead of giving up meat (which I already eat very little of) or chocolate (again, a minor part of my diet and not really a sacrifice) or anything similar?

I am fasting from laziness.  Fasting from sitting on my butt.  My Lenten practice, this year, is to commit to some form of intentional exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.  I am choosing to observe Sundays as the mini-Easter that they are, and so are not part of the fast.

So – that is my physical piece.  But, as a Lenten practice, it is fruitless and self-serving unless I add in the other aspects of prayer and service.   So, my prayer (or God-focus) part of Lent is to read Scripture more regularly, pray while I’m on the treadmill, and change the music I listen to to help keep my thoughts centered on God while I’m walking.  As for service, I am always looking for the people who cross my path that I believe God sent to me.  Also, my discipline for service will take the form of writing.

Writing as Spiritual Discipline

I have a lot going on in my head as I journey back to health – and with nudging from good friends (like Laura) – am realizing I have much to say and share as I do.  So I will be writing – intentionally – during the full season of Lent.

My writing is intended to help others understand this journey of getting healthy, encourage those who are struggling with their own health, and – selfishly – to help me process some of the stuff I need to think about – specifically regarding my self-image.

Join the Conversation

So have you thought about what you’re giving up for Lent?  Do you have a reason for your choice?  And how does your personal choice (Self-focus) tie back in to the other two aspects of Fasting: God-focus and Others-focus? Leave a comment in the box below to share your journey this Lenten season.

I am a musician, a photographer, a theologian, a customer service rep.  I am a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  But mostly I am a child of God striving to live my crazy life the best way I know how.  These writings have been born from my journey back to health that I started in June 2011.  At that time, I weighed over 300 pounds and needed to lose at least half my weight to be considered in a healthy range.  Since then, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds through adjusting my diet and adding exercise.  The surprising side effect is the emotional changes that go along with getting healthy – and that is what has prompted me to begin to write.

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Guest Post: 3 Must-haves for Lent: Part 1

My friend Jenn Cannon has graciously agreed to share her experience of fasting during this Lenten season and its impact on her body theology. You can find more of her writing here.

I am a musician, a photographer, a theologian, a customer service rep.  I am a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  But mostly I am a child of God striving to live my crazy life the best way I know how.  These writings have been born from my journey back to health that I started in June 2011.  At that time, I weighed over 300 pounds and needed to lose at least half my weight to be considered in a healthy range.  Since then, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds through adjusting my diet and adding exercise.  The surprising side effect is the emotional changes that go along with getting healthy – and that is what has prompted me to begin to write.

Last week, Christians around the globe marked the beginning of the season of Lent.  This season of 40 days (well, really 46) of preparation and repentance is observed so that we can prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Holy Week and Easter.  We intend to spend these 40 days focused on God and Christ and the upcoming sacrifice that saves us.

At least – that’s the intent.

Lenten Fasting

Historically, Lent has included a fast of some sort: abstaining from certain foods, from all food, from bad habits, from sex… The Lenten fast has taken so many different forms over the years.  In more Orthodox congregations, the fast is prescribed and required (with some dispensations granted for the extremely ill or weak).  In many Protestant churches, the fast is voluntary (at most) and unknown (at least).  Some congregations don’t observe Lent at all.

What then does this Fast, this abstaining, really mean?  What is the purpose and how do we observe it correctly?  And really – what does fasting have to do with Body Theology at all?

The Lenten practice was originally a 3-part one: prayer, fasting, service.  The idea is that one practice without the other 2 is incomplete.  So – if we choose to fast simply to fast, we miss the mark.  The whole point is to prepare ourselves for Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and life-giving resurrection.  If we focus ONLY on the fast, we miss the rest of the preparation.

Lenten Prayer

Fasting without prayer is simply denying ourselves.  If we use the popular example of food – we are simply denying ourselves sustenance, and missing the point.  Prayer – focus on GOD – is crucial.  Without it, we are perhaps using the fast in a multitude of incorrect ways: pride at our will or self-control; attempting to manipulate others (as in the case of a hunger strike); proof of our own piousness; and many others.  And physically, denying ourselves a certain food can enhance the desire for it – to such an extent that it could lead to a binge.  Unhealthy AND ungodly.

When we add prayer – or scripture reading or any other discipline that focuses our attention on God instead of ourselves – we immediately rescue the Fast from the worldly concerns and it can become, again, a part of worship.  We can worship through our physical acts, provided our hearts and minds are in the right place.

Lenten Service

As we worship God physically and spiritually, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor, as well. When pressed by the Sadducees to name the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus answered:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. ~ Matthew 22: 34-40

Christ didn’t make a distinction between loving self, loving God, and loving others.  They are all tied together into one answer.  The Greatest Commandment.  And so, too, should our Lenten practice be….

Come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion!

I Gave Up BEING AWAKE for Lent!

I’m excited to have my friend Jenn Cannon guest posting this week.  She’s going to be sharing some of her journey with fasting and healthy living in light of the Lenten season.  Before I turn my blog over to her, I thought I’d prime the pump, so to speak, by sharing some of my thoughts on Lent and body theology.

I never knew much about Lent growing up.  My church didn’t really follow the church calendar outside of Christmas and Easter, and I only knew about Ash Wednesday from my Catholic friend.  I was in college before I was ever encouraged to “give something up for Lent.”  That first year, I followed my friends’ lead and gave up sweets.  I lost eleven pounds in time for Easter Sunday (oh my, what a sweet tooth I had, especially with unlimited soft serve in the dining hall!), but I missed entirely the spiritual purpose of preparing my heart and mind for the celebration of the resurrection.

A couple of years back, I gave up driving for Lent.  I could, because I lived close enough to walk pretty much everywhere I needed to go.  Walking has always been a spiritual experience for me, although to be fair, I usually prefer to walk in nature than along busy city streets. For the first time, during that season, I sought the spiritual side of Lent and allowed myself to experience the loss of my car and enjoy the presence of God on my daily journeys.

The next year, I stayed overnight at a monastery on Ash Wednesday and learned the spiritual practice of silence. It was a painful time for me, and learning to be silent and still became disciplines I will always carry with me.  I wrote a little about my experience at the monastery here.

Giving up BEING AWAKE for Lent

This year, Lent sort of sneaked up on me, and I wasn’t sure I would give up anything at all.  But I’ve been uncommonly tired in the last few months, and recently I’ve been pressuring myself to get out of bed and be productive again.  Today I decided (a little late, I know) to give up this spirit of doing for Lent and practice being.

Giving up doing for Lent may not sound very applicable to body theology, but it really is.  Our western society is collectively sleep-deprived.  While most people sleep an average of six hours per night, most people need eight or nine hours.  That means most people are living on two or three hours of sleep fewer per night than their bodies really need to function properly.

Last week, after a super-fun sleep study and nap study (during which I was sorely unable to do much of either), I met with my neurologist to find out that my body most likely needs ten to twelve hours of sleep per night.  That’s two to four hours more sleep than most people need–and four to six hours more sleep than most people get!

So, for the rest of the Lenten season, I am going to be sleeping as close to ten hours a night as I can.  That means moving my work schedule from the morning to the early afternoon. That means going to sleep instead of squeezing in that extra Netflix episode.  That means allowing my body to receive the rest that it needs without pressuring myself to get up and be productive all day.  That means practicing the spiritual discipline of rest.

We’ll talk a little more about the theology of rest on Thursday.  For now, get ready to meet my new guest poster, Jenn Cannon.  It’s gonna be awesome!  Until then, I wish all you lovely readers peaceful sleep and pleasant dreams…..zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Saturday Sex-versations

As part of the on-going series, the links below will take you to current conversations about sexuality and relationships as well as issues related to the other three categories of holistic body theology: community, cultural discernment, and service.

Stay informed about what the world and the Church are saying so we can discuss the issues, discern healthy, holistic body theology, and discover God’s truth in the midst of many opinions.

Here’s this week’s installment.  (Links are organized roughly by date and similarity of content.)

Don’t be shy.  Share your thoughts in the comment section, or join the original conversations via the links provided.

Physicality: Body Image, Sexuality and Relationship Issues

1) In which I am on my soapbox about shame Has shame ever helped a woman? This is just the other side of that same “You’re not enough” coin.

2) The Secret Sexual Revolution If this generation wants to reverse the trend and reduce the number of Christians having premarital sex, the first step is trying to figure out why so few are waiting.

3) Clothing In Church: Why It Matters The way we dress is frequently an external expression of an internal reality, a way for “the body, or even the self, to communicate itself to society,” in the words of theologian Tom Beaudoin.

4) Sex Is A Big Deal And I Wish Someone Had Told Me No one ever talks about the casual dating and casual hook up aftermath. Instead, it is glamorized and a fun, sexy, effective fix-all.

5) Transfiguration and Beauty We offer the Lord these forty days because we believe God loves us. We believe that when we let go of control, we will see more clearly the movement and the beauty of Jesus.

6) The Secret Life of Hasidic Sexuality Actually, the main purpose of sex — as explained by Jewish law — is to create something called devek, best translated as an intense spiritual/emotional cleaving between the couple.

7) Veiled Muslim women and revolutionary modesty Whether we’re wearing hajibs or jeans or baggy t-shirts or mini-skirts, are our clothes making us slaves to patriarchy and consumerism?

8) Resurrection Spirituality And this kind of eschatology leads to body image problems now, not to mention lack of care with creation and lack of concern with any sense of salvation having to do with creation and cosmos and new creation.

9) When Your One Beauty Goes Gray But then there are the days when I find that pesky, out of place gray hair, and I wonder.  Will anyone love me with gray hair?  Will anyone think I’m beautiful if it was gone?

10) Dear Victims of Rape and Sexual Abuse No Shame. No Guilt. No Excuses. No Blame. No Heartache.

11) Phyllis Tickle & Doug Pagitt: Welcome to Ash Wednesday Of all the observances of Christianity, Lent is far and away the most physical, starting not with Ash Wednesday but with Mardi Gras. [The last minute is especially wonderful.]

12) Transgender kids get puberty-blocking drugs, sex-changing hormones; MDs say numbers are rising Switching gender roles…is common in young children. But these kids are different. They feel certain they were born with the wrong bodies.

13) Seven states sue government over contraceptives mandate “This lawsuit is about protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience, our most basic freedoms as Americans.”

14) The Millennial Church: The Future of Christianity (Pt.5) At the heart of the loss of virginity before marriage lies a bigger issue in the eyes of millennials, morality/ethics.

15) ‘Am I Ugly?’ Videos: Young Teens Ask YouTube Users Whether They’re Pretty Or Not But, in a world of carefully curated Facebook profiles that put personal lives (and looks) at center stage…it’s perhaps unsurprising that young people are sharing their body image anxieties in such a forum.

Media Literacy/Cultural Discernment

1) Erasing Women: How Both Sides Contribute to the Media Blackout on Female Pro-Lifers But as all this happens—and it is happening, however slowly—mainstream institutions such as the media, the government, the schools, and the entertainment industry need to recognize that these women exist and have voices worth hearing.

2) The Final Freaking Rose. [H]ave we grown so apathetic to the human condition that we’ve turned Love into a gameshow?

Community: Equality and Other Issues

1) there are a lot of ways to pastor [T]he world is crying out for more “pastors”, people who will bravely and freely extend Christ’s love, hope, care, mercy & justice in a broken & hurting world.

2) Mimi Haddad on Gender and Equality in the Church Now, you can hear more from Dr. Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality on gender and equality in the Church.

3) We Need the Full Vocabulary of God To my mind, the church today has impoverished itself by praying with and singing with and thinking with such a small set of the many images for God found in the Bible.

4) And Daniel Kirk Said This Too! How are we to assess these women who, in the narrative world, are outsiders, on the margins?

5) Our Problem is Authoritarianism and Not Legalism Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian.

6) Male and Female God Made (Most Of) Them: Part 2 Christians cared for people no one else cared for.

7) When Church Becomes a Verb Instead of going to church to be fed, to be welcomed, to be loved, why don’t we go to church to feed, to welcome, to love?

8) A Little Grace for Masculine Christianity I am saying [masculine Christianity is] one way—it’s part of the truth, just as God’s more traditionally feminine qualities are part of the truth—and for some people it’s critical.

9) Women of valor at Truett Seminary I can’t help but smile to myself when I think about the fact that over the next ten years, those who think that women should be banned from church leadership will have to contend with the talents and enthusiasm of these women of valor!

10) Evangelical 2.0: The Deception of Mark Driscoll’s Acts 29 Network Acts 29 commits itself to “…get behind the men (emphasis added) who are planting churches by…networking with men in different denominations and networks for the kingdom good of the city.”

11) Women in Ministry Series: All Are Invited to Talk I struggle as a woman in a conservative church. Do I stay and work for change? Or do I escape to enjoy freedom elsewhere?

12) What Diversity Should Look Like [T]he temptation is always to elevate your own experience over someone else’s. Within the Church, this can lead to conflict, division and sorrow. But those differences can also be the glory of God made manifest.

13) Is There a Place for Creative Christians? In community that is caring and healthy, an artist brings not only beauty and inspiration but also powerful observational skills and spiritual awareness.

14) Phyllis Tickle & Doug Paggit: The Physicality of Lent In the third installment of my conversation with Phyllis Tickle about Lent we talk about the physical nature of spirituality.

Service: Social Justice Issues

1) The Santorum Question: Should Theology Affect the Way We Vote? Faith and politics are enmeshed with each other in both vital and destructive ways.

2) Counting the Cost I have learned, however, that when you take these numbers and put them within context and place, these numbers actually tell a story.

3) Justice in Guatemala: Man Convicted for Raping His 15-Year-Old Daughter And the conviction sends a strong message to the entire community that sexual crimes against children will not be tolerated under the law.

4) A Savvy Peacemaker Building Across Missouri’s Race Lines The divide has resulted in tension between the African American community and the predominantly white authorities and social service agencies. Lawson sees his calling as bridging that gap.

5) The Significance of Linsanity Fortunately, the symbolism hasn’t been wasted; rather, it has turned into a fascinating conversation about the need for forgiveness and humility.

6) Role Reversal: The Problem of the Increasing Marginalization of Men And the Khasi men are experiencing the crippling prejudice, discrimination, and oppression that women throughout history have known all too well.

7) Haitian millionaire determined to build back better Now the 45-year-old is using his entrepreneurship to benefit communities uprooted by the devastating 2010 quake.

Forward Friday: Bathtub Spirituality

For today’s Forward Friday, and to wrap up our two-week foray through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s Prayer and Our Bodies, I thought we’d conclude with another of her suggested guided meditations for daily living.

I have always been a big proponent of what I like to call “bathtub spirituality,” in which some of my closest and most profound encounters with God have come while I was in the bathtub.  Maybe I’ll write a whole post about it sometime, but for today, let’s experience prayer with our bodies through the daily act of…

Cleansing

How precious is thy steadfast love, O God!…They feast on the abundance of thy house, and thou givest them drink from the river of thy delights.  For with thee is the fountain of life. — Psalm 36:7-9

Thou visitest the earth and waterest it, thou greatly enrichest it. — Psalm 65:9

As you drink the morning’s first water, as your body cleanses itself inwardly through elimination , and as you wash your outer body, become appreciatively aware of this refreshing, pleasurable cleansing.  These are healthy, holy experiences and are meant (as with any act of holiness) to be enjoyed.  Water on the body is an ancient, sacramental symbol of God’s love and healing flowing out to human beings and to all living things.  Many people find that they pray best and most fully and can feel God’s response most clearly when in the shower!

Try this simple mediation next time you’re in the shower, and leave a comment in the box below to share how it went.  Blessings on your bathtub!

A Confession and an Open Door

Any assault, manipulation, depersonalization of our earth is even more destructive to our humanity than is the depersonalization of our own bodies. – Wuellner, Prayer and Our Bodies

I have a confession to make.  I’m not a very good activist.  I’m not politically-minded, and I don’t enjoy creating or participating in demonstrations or rallies.  I believe that issues of social justice and creation care are important and that, as a Christian, I should work for them.  But I’m not good at it.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to explore Wuellner’s book with all of you, and I’ve enjoyed and resonated with every chapter…except this one.

Chapter 9: Prayer for the Body of the Earth

As she did in Chapter 8 with the human body and embodied community, Wuellner draws parallels between the human body and what she calls “the body of the earth.”  She writes, “Our earth body, with its atmosphere, its water, its soil, its shrubs, trees, grass, animal life, is as much a bodily self as we are.”

Wuellner suggests that, as we often do with our own bodies, humankind has treated the earth with disdain and disgust: “At best, we have taken it for granted, used it, manipulated it.  At worst, we have assaulted it, ravaged it, and, for immediate gain, destroyed many forms of its life with careless unconcern, poisoning its air, water, and soil.”

That sounds like a social activist‘s speech, doesn’t it?  Next, we expect to hear some pithy catchphrase like “Save the Whales.”

But Wuellner takes a different tactic.  As a professor, ordained minister, and trained spiritual director, Wuellner is much less interested in taking up The Cause and much more interested in a holistic discussion of bodily prayer–one that includes prayer for the earth that Genesis tells us God gave into our hands to maintain.

In fact, Wuellner suggests that part of the empowerment we feel when we experience healing is a desire toward creation care: “As we relate anew to our bodily selves, we begin to feel an urgency to relate anew to the body of our earth.”  She takes a step further to suggest that the “earth itself, even as our bodies, needs our healing and prayer as much as we need its healing and prayer.”

Wuellner takes care to remind her readers that concern with the well-being of the earth is not a new concept in Christian history and theology.  She quotes a reflection from Hildegard of Bingen:

Does not humanity know that God
is the world’s creator?

With nature’s help,
humankind can set into creation
all that is necessary and life sustaining.

An Open Door

Are you an advocate for social justice and creation care?  Would you like to share your experience?  I’d like to establish an open door, through which any of you lovely readers are welcome to step by way of writing a guest post that explores the service aspect of body theology.  This is a standing offer, at least for the time being.  If you’re interested, please send me your submission at  bodytheologyblog@gmail.com.

Not ready for a guest post? Drop me a line in the comments below to share your story.

We’re Throwing a Healing Party–and You’re Invited!

It is impossible to separate the way we feel about ourselves from the way we feel about one another. – Wuellner

We’ve been touring Flora Slosson Wuellner’s Prayer and Our Bodies last week and this week, looking for insights to encourage our pursuit of holistic body theology.  Just as body theology is about not only our own bodies but also what we do with them in the world, so Wuellner’s book encourages prayer not only with our own bodies but also with our community body. She writes, “The nurture, inclusiveness, and sensitivity which we try to bring to our own bodies is precisely the same nurture, inclusiveness, and sensitivity we are asked to bring to our community body.”

Chapter 8: The Healing and Renewal of Our Community Body

Being in community with others is hard work.  As we learned through our discussion of Bonhoeffer’s ideas about community, prayer with and for one another is one of the best ways to come to love and respect each other.  As Wuellner puts it, “The health of a community body depends so utterly on its tenderness and its honor toward all its members.”

A spiritual life, and a body theology, experienced entirely as an individual is deficient.  We are not living out our participation in the incarnation of Christ if we are not participating in community:

It is in community that our true faith is revealed and tested. Just as our spirituality must be experienced in our personal bodies, so must it also be experienced in our community bodies.  If our spirituality has become merely an individualistic exercise–if our whole self (body, emotions, spirit) is not part of our community context–we have missed the meaning of the incarnational life.

Wuellner acknowledges that it’s easy to overlook the difficult members of our community–the homeless, the disabled, the emotionally dependent: “How often is our politeness merely a way of distancing ourselves from honest encounter? If we learn honesty within our own bodies and hearts, can we at last begin to learn it with one another?”

She describes healthy community as having “not only nurture for its members but also openness towards new members, new ideas, new ways of living.  A healthy family is not a closed circle; it reaches beyond itself in interest and concern or its spirit will die.” We cannot be exclusive and be a truly healthy community where “all are equally heard, valued, and nurtured.”

How often are we divided over issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation? How often do we hold grudges against past offenders, despise those who have wounded us (either individually or communally), and refused to be reconciled? Is this what it means to be the body of Christ?

What would it look like if we threw a healing party?  Everyone in our community could come with their individual gifts and strengths, and we could celebrate being the body of Christ together.  Then, before we leave the “party,” we could pray together for our community to be healed and become whole.  Is there any better party favor than healthy community?

We can achieve healthy community, Wuellner suggests, through communal prayer:

Let us in our churches, prayer groups, and personal prayers begin with boldness to explore in depth these new frontiers of prayer for the radical healing of our family bodies, our church bodies, our racial, national, professional bodies.

If you and your community are ready to experience healing and wholeness as the body of Christ, I encourage you to throw a healing party.  Begin to pray–individually and communally–for God’s healing to come. Wuellner offers this guidance as we enter into communal prayer:

  1. God is the healer. We are to be the transmitters, not the generators, of the healing light and energy.
  2. Face our true feelings about the person or the group or the situation.  The feeling itself will never be a block to God’s work of healing if it is faced. We admit what we feel to God and let God do the loving.
  3. Our prayer is not meant to be either diagnostic or prescriptive.  There will be changes, but they are not always what we expected, and they do not always come at the time we expect.

What To Do When It Hurts–and Keeps Hurting

[O]ur bodies should be loved within the problem, as part of our whole life’s experience. – Wuellner, Prayer and Our Bodies

About a year ago, my L5 disc slipped out of alignment.  I’m not sure exactly what did it. Whatever the cause, the pain began to wake me up at night, then to keep me from sleeping, then to keep me from moving freely until I was in constant pain and afraid to move for fear I was making it worse.  All my home remedies failed.

Since I didn’t have insurance at the time, I went to a free clinic, got some heavy pain medication (thank you, government funding), and was told to stretch regularly and the pain would go away in time for our wedding in April.

The night before our wedding, the pain was so severe that I didn’t sleep at all.

As soon as my husband’s insurance kicked in the Monday after our honeymoon, I went to the chiropractor for the first time.  He x-rayed my back and discovered I have scoliosis and that my slipped disc was inflamed and was causing sciatica in both legs.  So I began the long process of being adjusted three times a week, icing my back in 20-minute intervals, and stretching.

Now, a year later, I still have a slipped disc, and it still presses on my sciatic nerve when I’ve been sitting too long or driving any distance.  The pain is more manageable now, and I have developed a greater tolerance for it.  But I will be going to the chiropractor for the rest of my life.

Maybe one day I will be pain-free, but there’s no guarantee.  All I can do is stretch, ice my back, and minimize the amount of sitting I do as much as possible.

Chapter 7: Relating to Our Bodies in Illness and Disability

Yesterday we looked at what happens to our bodies when we experience healing and empowerment.  But what about when our bodies are in pain, sick, or permanently altered? How should we relate to our bodies then?

Wuellner suggests that we give our bodies some  grace and allow them to do the necessary work to find healing and balance again. It’s not easy to do:

Somehow we must maintain the miracle of wholeness and healing when the body and mind work together in loving unity within God’s embrace and at the same time acknowledge the presence of mystery, knowing that we do not have all the answers, knowing that God works ceaselessly with our body and mind to bring light out of darkness.

In fact, Wuellner acknowledges just how hard it is to give our bodies the grace and space necessary for healing.  We often get in our own way:

The very work the body is doing makes it hard for us to love and communicate with it. It is hard for us not to hate and repudiate our body when it signals extreme discomfort and pain.  It is hard not to blame it, or at least ignore and escape from it, by merely deadening the symptoms.

My experience with my back pain is certainly not as extreme as some.  I haven’t had to have surgery yet.  I’m still able to walk, sit when I need to, and function virtually normally. I am lucky that the scoliosis is mild and that chiropractic adjustments help with the pain.

But I have to say, I’ve been mightily frustrated with my body over the past year. I’ve blamed and accused it.  I’ve ignored it.  I’ve beaten it into submission so I can get things done.  Only my husband knows how much I have complained and cried.

But Wuellner advocates that we do not have to live in such a state of “bondage” to our body’s situation: “Bondage is the feeling that our lives are out of control; that we have no choices or alternatives; that there is no more “new creation”; that we are living in captive obedience rather than in relationship. God sets us free to discover that each moment, within grace, opens endless creative possibilities.”

How do we experience this freedom in the midst of our bodily illness or disability? Here are some of Wuellner’s suggestions:

  • Enter into a warm, appreciative, listening relationship with your body before illness strikes.
  • Be in close touch with your body’s wisdom as it works for healing.
  • Ask your body what you, your conscious self, can do to help in the way of diet, rest, exercise, and daily life.
  • Do not set timetables for healing, and do not push or force.
  • Respect the body’s own rhythm of timing and healing.
  • Remind yourself that the body has not suddenly become your enemy.
  • Be patient, realizing that the body has to get in touch with the depths of our subconscious mind and do quite a lot of other work before the outer symptoms being to change.
  • Be confident that your body hears you and is aware of your efforts to show grace and patience. There may not be a complete cure, but something will begin to happen.

I don’t know about you, but I need to hear this today.  Instead of complaining about the pain today, I’m going to lie down for a while (because sitting hurts) and try to communicate some grace and patience to my body. I’m going to apologize for not being more understanding, and I’m going to wait and listen for any wisdom my body has to participate in the healing process.

If you are in pain or ill today, I encourage you to join me, and come back later to share how things went in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you!

Sex is Good, Even When You’re Not Having Any

Our bodies are often the first to signal the rising of our newly released inner energies and gifts. — Wuellner

Last week, we made our way through the first five chapters of Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book Prayer and Our Bodies.  This week, we’ll finish our little tour by reflecting on what she has to say about how our bodies relate to sexuality, disability and illness, community and creation.

Chapter 6: Healed Empowerment and Our Bodies

In this chapter, Wuellner has some interesting things to say about sexuality as one expression of the “transformation of the Holy Spirit” that draws out our natural “poise, balance, justice and charity between passions and energies.”  Along with laughter and tears, just anger and compassion, Wuellner suggests that the unity and marriage we talked about last Thursday between the body and spiritual experience results in “a new restlessness, poignancy, vigor felt in the body that often involves a heightened sexual awareness….”

Many think that sexuality will go away or at least become quiescent as we grow spiritually.  On the contrary! As we abide more closely to the God who is the source of all creative energy, the God of the Incarnation, we begin to experience sexual energy in a new way, as a holy, inalienable, generative force.

In other words, “[s]exual energy is energy from the source of creative life itself.” Our sexuality comes from God.  Whether we are sexually active or not, our sexual energy is a good and powerful expression of who we are as creative individuals participating in the Incarnation of Christ.  In fact, Wuellner reminds us that “we are all sexual beings, including those who are celibate or abstinent, for our creative polarized response to life within and around us is manifested in many ways through our body’s vitality.”

Expressing our sexuality through sexual interaction with another person is one way to expend this sexual energy, and such activity–when undertaken within healthy and appropriate boundaries–is both sanctioned and blessed by God.  As Wuellner writes, “None of our bodily energies are low or unworthy.”

However, not everyone is in a position to express their sexuality this way.  Having spent most of my life thus far as a single woman (married less than a year), I’m intimately familiar with the frustration of discussions about how blessed, natural and good our sexual energy is while being unable to express it fully.

I remember sitting in church one day listening to a sermon on the value of exercise.  At one point in the sermon, the pastor said, “Now, all you single people, put your fingers in your ears.” It was clear what he wanted to say next was directed toward only the married members of the congregation.  Then he said, “Exercise also raises your libido!” As the congregation laughed and clapped at his admission that exercise can give us more sexual energy, my single friend and I exchanged a glance that said, Oh great, so then what are WE supposed to do about all that extra sexual energy?

Wuellner suggests that “none of our powers and feelings need be wasted.  When direct sexual activity is inappropriate, we can still accept the empowered gift in ways that bless us.”

Here are some of her suggestions, which she stresses are neither more holy nor more spiritual than direct sexual activity:

  • speak inwardly to your sexual emotion and say “I choose not to give you direct expression; rather I ask you to send your powerful vitality to my whole self so that I can do my work with empowered love.”
  • locate the area where the sexual energy seems to be centered and visualize the energy flowing “with radiant power like a river of light” to the rest of your body.

You can also follow my friend Stacey’s journey through 50 days of experiencing her sexuality as a single person.

In these ways, we can still acknowledge, express, and enjoy our sexuality without necessarily expressing it directly.  Rather than feeling frustrated, repressed, or perhaps even plagued by emotions and desires with no appropriate avenue for direct expression, we can experience our sexuality in a healthy, appropriate, and indirect way through these and similar suggestions.

Wuellner ends her discussion of sexuality (along with anger, food, play, dance and exercise) with four main reasons we experience such “gifted empowerment that rises and manifests in our bodies….”

  1. that we may more thoroughly enter into the joy of God and may more fully taste the gifts of God
  2. that we may more fully encounter, accept, and embrace our unique identity
  3. that we may with passion and compassion bear one another’s burdens and “wash one another’s feet”
  4. that we may be eager channels of the healing transformation that God longs to bring to the agony of the world.

Before the beginning of Lent on Wednesday, take some time to sit quietly with your body, recognizing its power and vitality and allowing them to fill your whole self–body, mind, spirit and will.  Acknowledge and thank your body for its participation in your whole life experience.

Saturday Sex-versations

As part of the on-going series, the links below will take you to current conversations about sexuality and relationships as well as issues related to the other three categories of holistic body theology: community, cultural discernment, and service.

Stay informed about what the world and the Church are saying so we can discuss the issues, discern healthy, holistic body theology, and discover God’s truth in the midst of many opinions.

Here’s this week’s installment.  (Links are organized roughly by date and similarity of content.)

Don’t be shy.  Share your thoughts in the comment section, or join the original conversations via the links provided.

Physicality: Body Image, Sexuality and Relationship Issues

1) Beautiful Sex and the Impact of Porn in Marriage  Incorporating the use of pornography is as beneficial to your marital sex life as having a threesome with a disease ridden meth addicted hooker.

2) ‘Love InshAllah,’ Newly Released Book Shatters Stereotypes on Muslim Women, Sex and Love “There are still misconceptions about Muslim women, because Muslim women, their bodies, their lives, have been so caught up in political debate,” Mattu said. “I feel like this is a way for people to connect with women who are revealing their full humanity.”

3) Love You! Now, the Difficult Stuff… Once people decide they are in love…too often they will duck tough conversations for fear of undermining what they see as a magical connection.

4) Should the Church Begin Arranged Marriages? With children hitting puberty earlier and earlier, and the level of sexual brokenness in our culture, having arranged marriages provides people with, hopefully, a healthier sexual outlet at a younger age.

5) 10 ways to have a horrible first date if you’re a Christian 7. Tell him you play handbells at church. And then, play them during your entire date.

6) Sex change British man gives birth to son Last night medical ethics experts called for a full inquiry into the issues surrounding transgender births, saying the interests of the child should not be risked to “fulfill the rights of an adult”.

7) Country’s first openly gay bishop preaches inclusivity beyond hospitality He called on the 300 people in the pews before him to work harder to integrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into their spiritual lives.

8) To the Girl Who Has Never Dated Dating seems to have fallen into this weird category in Christian circles where we are either one date away from marriage or ruining the rest of our lives. Talk about extremes.

9) What Is Love? The Soul Knows If God is one and love is infinite, why limit ourselves when it comes to choosing a partner?

10) Interracial marriage in US hits new high: 1 in 12  “The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter century…but America still has a long way to go.”

11) Unplanned Parenthood: The Blessing of an Inconvenient Pregnancy [F]ertility and childbearing highlight my addiction to control more than almost anything else…. Women are, after all, trained to control our bodies. Managing one’s appearance and conducting one’s body in a way that honors God are common female virtues in the church.

Media Literacy/Cultural Discernment

1) Kelli Anderson – Disruptive Wonder for a Change The world is full of order that doesn’t necessarily deserve our respect. Sometimes there is meaning, justice, and logic present in the way things are — but sometimes there just isn’t. [Her thoughts on media literacy begin around 9:30 with an astonishing prank.]

2) The Truth About Disney Love  What Disney fails to tell us is that when you wish upon a star, it usually doesn’t come true.

3) Why Pretty Women Are Overrated Don’t let culture define you.

Community: Equality Issues (There’s so much happening this week in the wake of John Piper’s remarks that I thought it deserved its own category.)

1) The Rhetoric of Masculine Christianity Yet the most important issue is not that Piper’s view would be misunderstood.  The absolute fundamental problem would be that it would be mistakenly taken as good news.

2) John Piper’s Masculine Christianity There is certainly a masculine feel to Christianity; but does this masculine feel necessarily exclude an equal female feel? Aren’t there aspects of the Christian faith that have a feminine feel to them…and should we also seek to promote these?

3) Lecrae, 116 Clique and John Piper — 100& Masculinity I assert that it is not masculinity that saved us from femininity; rather, that love compelled Christ to come and save us from fear, hate and darkness; that love compelled Christ to sacrifice all to save us from ourselves, our sin and our selfishness.

4) Writing for a Sexist World  [A]s women who write we have to be feminist, explicitly feminist—because the reception of our work will often be sexist.

5) Women’s History: Give Credit Where It’s Due Motivated by the belief that men and women were made in God’s image to “rule the earth” together, these pro-woman, pro-justice believers sought to right wrongs for those who had less social power. Isn’t it time we reclaimed our own story?

6) Masculine Christianity’s Problem One of the major issues today is the rise of education among women, making some men feel intimidated.

7) Unbinding the Feet: Women in Ministry In hindering some women from the fullness of their callings, we hinder the entire Body of Christ as well.

Community: Other Issues

1) seeds matter. we don’t have to keep perpetuating systems we fundamentally disagree with.  we don’t have to pass on a legacy of inequality and sexism to our children.  we don’t have to comprise our integrity  to keep fitting in. change starts with us.

2) Interview with Dan Brennan [W]e should never treat persons as instruments for achieving our own agendas….This is foundational for a life-giving, holiness and reverence between the sexes in marriage and friendship.

3) Does Anyone Actually Belong in Church? I want to step back and ask, “What do we mean when we say we don’t feel like we belong in church?”

4) Why Young People Are Feeling Conservative Evangelicalism The report cites the tension felt by young adults who find it difficult—if not impossible—to remain “sexually pure,” especially since most heterosexuals don’t marry until their mid-to-late twenties.

5) A love note to the workaholic One of the most commonly held and dangerous myths about vulnerability is that being vulnerable means being weak.

6) Why Jeremy Lin Matters Given Lin’s clear profession of faith, Asian American Christians in particular embrace him both as fellow ethnic kin as well as a fellow believer.

7) Christianity Out, Religion In?  In fact, these days more and more Americans are discontent with religion, and instead turn to spirituality to reconnect with God, themselves, and others.

8) When Words Become Flesh Our words must become flesh.

9) What’s the Point of Church Membership Perhaps the actual problem is that we don’t want to commit to a bunch of broken people who will inevitably hurt us and let us down. So we settle for tarnished intimacy and feigned vulnerability.

10) Gong Story My real agenda was not even to disciple her, but to make her more like me – and she saw straight through it. Who wants to be like a gong?

11) Amazing Gift: Stories of Faith, Disability and Inclusion “Anybody working toward including a particular group,” said Hartmut, “soon discovers that inclusive ministry does not stop there. It leads to many other groups, whose access to the holy table deserves equal attention.”

12) The Challenge of Disability to Christianity Persons with profound cognitive disabilities tend to teach us that the truly significant thing, the main thing, is located at the ineffable core of our being.

13) In which there is a crack in everything  Here’s my own life, I’m determined to share it, to pour it out unfinished, imperfect.

14) Five Principles for Surviving Community [Community] is a purposing to stand hand in hand with a variety of others, for a variety of reasons, and to say somehow–”These are MY people.” while not obscuring the fact that countless others, yet unknown, could equally fit such a description.

Service: Social Justice Issues

1)Stolen Childhood: How Do We End the Use of Child Soldiers?  [A]lmost 40% of child soldiers are girls. Not only do they serve as combatants, but many are also taken as “bush wives”, a term used by militia commanders to refer to sex slaves.

2) Crocheting for a Better Tomorrow [T]he cards are meant to serve as a reminder that we should remember to feel compassion and love for our neighbors both locally and globally.

3) Do We Have to Forgive Chris Brown? Something is very, very wrong when a story about Jesus protecting a woman from male violence is being used to protect a violent man from feminist criticism.

4) Finding Our Political Will to End Poverty Remarkably, we made it through 2011 without any major cuts to programs focused on hungry and poor people. We maintained the safety net in this country, and it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

5) Cost-Effective Compassion The difficulties in assessing the impact of antipoverty efforts only magnify the need for understanding the impacts of different types of programs.

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