Monthly Archives: January 2013
Listeners who Shape the Story
Storytelling was my favorite class in seminary. Out of all the classes I took, it was the one that scared me the most, stretched me the most, and inspired me the most. In Storytelling, I discovered part of myself that I had never recognized or acknowledged before. I found an untapped courage and an unheard voice. In learning to the art of storytelling, I began to discover the truth underneath my own.
Telling our stories is powerful work. Here at Holistic Body Theology, I write a lot about my own story. I bare little bits of my soul, take a deep breath, and hit “publish.” I share my story with you lovely readers because I hope that you will find something of yourself here, some bit of freedom or healing, some resonance or camaraderie or commiseration. If nothing else, it is therapeutic, part of my own journey toward self-awareness, healing, and wholeness. I write the truth not just to share it with all of you but to keep the revelation fresh and conscious. And I will keep on writing the truth until I convince myself.
But this blog is not just a platform for my own story. It is also a forum for the sharing of all of our stories. As I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also feeling a deep call to find my ears and learn to use them. I am learning to be a listener.
Story-telling needs to be unhurried and unharried, so the listener must be willing to let the narrative unfold….Storytelling is also a dialogue, and sometimes the [listener] must become active in helping shape the story. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction
I have been becoming a listener for a long time, listening to the stories of others and joining them with my own as we shape together the unfolding story of God in our lives. In a world crowded with words and noise and advertisements and cultural mandates and every message from everywhere demanding attention and primacy and response, the call to the contemplative life is something like a rising wind, blowing across the desert dunes with such force and persistence that the shape of the terrain is completely rearranged and made new. Suddenly the lay of the land looks different, unfamiliar. The path we have taken is wiped away. We can’t go back the way we came. We can only continue onward.
I want to listen to your stories, dear readers. As I share with you the journey I am on, I hope you will join me on the way and help me shape the story we are all in. The comment box is always open. For sensitive stories, I am always available by private Facebook message or email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. I am honored each time I hear from you, my dear companions on this journey. We are all exploring this intersection of mind-body-spirit we call the human life. We are all moving toward healing and wholeness together.
I am both listener and storyteller.
I am both silent and engaging in dialogue.
I am both resting and moving forward.
I am both broken and becoming whole.
Holistic Body Theology is the art of balancing and honoring the mind-body-spirit connection that makes us who we are: human beings created in the image of God. That is a story worth telling!
I was asked about what the “detour” in last week’s traffic metaphor represented, so I thought I’d share a little more about my personal journey with you lovely readers.
When my friend and I decided to spend Ash Wednesday at a monastery a few years ago, we didn’t have smart phones yet. We didn’t have GPS or navigation systems in our cars. We were low-tech. We pulled up Google Maps or Map Quest or some such website, located the monastery, and printed out the designated route. We climbed in the car on the morning of our journey, complete with print-out directions in hand, and headed on our way…only to be stopped on our journey after the first 45 minutes by a police car blocking the route.
After about 20 minutes sitting in a line of cars waiting for the mountain passage to open, we finally got out to stretch our legs and trade pleasantries with the other drivers. That’s when we found out that the route mapped out in our printed-out directions was outdated. We were told that we couldn’t get to the monastery from the road we had chosen. The road up ahead had been destroyed in a fire and never repaired. We would have to back-track down the mountain and find a different route.
Sometimes in life, we experience road blocks. Sometimes these are obstacles in our lives that need to be overcome. For me, the road block was a kind of last-ditch effort to get me to realize I had been pursuing the wrong path. The path of doing and achievement and busy-ness that had so filled up my every waking moment (and most of my sleeping ones) was heading me toward a cliff. The road had washed out up ahead and if I didn’t stop now, I would crash over the edge.
I couldn’t get to where I wanted to go by the path I had chosen. I had to back-track down the mountain and find a different route. I had to take the detour.
My detour looks a lot like back-tracking. It looks a lot like stalling out. It looks a lot like having run out of gas, again. It looks a lot like taking the surface streets when the highway would be faster. It looks a lot like taking the scenic route. It looks a lot like taking the “long-cut” instead of the shortcut.
My detour looks a lot like the wrong way.
My detour is the path to contemplative prayer, to the compassionate way of life, to the spiritual practice of —, to the life of love. My detour is the path of counter-cultural living. It’s the path to slowing down and learning to rest. It’s the path to listening and watching before daring to speak. It’s the path to finding my voice by listening to the Voice of Love. It’s the path to being brave. It’s the path to everything my heart desires. It’s the path to God.
My detour is not the shortest distance between to points. It’s anything but. Yet my detour is not really a detour at all. It isn’t a temporary way around the dangerous construction until I can safely be on my hurried way again. It is in fact the road through a junkyard where I can leave my car and continue the way on foot, hiking a narrow, unmarked path into the wilderness with nothing but a compass and the promise of manna.
My detour is not a temporary displacement. It is a permanent re-routing. It is a change in perspective, a paradigm shift. It is the opportunity to slow down, open my eyes and ears, and become attentive to the movement and activity of the Divine Presence in my life.
Attentiveness means respecting, attending to, waiting on, looking at and listening to the other — the persons and things that we encounter — for what they are in themselves, not what we can make of them….[Attentiveness] involves a letting go of our usual need to control, an opening of ourselves to what we are being told or shown….[This attentiveness] frees and transforms. – Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things
I am becoming a listener. I am on the detour that is the only path to the rest of my life.
Come hiking with me.
Forward Friday: Becoming Listeners
Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims.
I’ve been thinking about this quotation of Nouwen’s all week. Why is it that silence is what moves us forward? What is the value of silence to the spiritual life?
The answer hit me yesterday morning when I awoke before my alarm and lay listening to the gentle drops of rain on the window. It rains so rarely here, and when it does, the rain is more like mist or drizzle. You have to be really quiet, really still, to hear the rain against the window.
As I lay listening to the rain, I realized something very obvious and un-profound: we must be silent, we pilgrims on our spiritual walks toward God, because it is in the silence that we learn to be listeners.
The spiritual discipline of silence is about more than one individual act of listening. It’s more than just creating space to hear from God in the moments we are seeking amidst the busy-ness of life. In silence is where we learn humility, truth, grace, peace, conviction, compassion. Practicing silence is about changing our mode of operation, changing our orientation to the world, to life, to God. Practicing silence is about cultivating a listening spirit, a listening heart. It’s about becoming listeners.
Only then, in the silence we have cultivated, will we be able to hear the soft drops of rain glancing against the window, so easy to miss. Only then, as listeners, will we be able to discern the way forward. To be silent keeps us pilgrims.
This weekend, take some time to practice being both silent and in silence. Try this exercise to get started:
- Find a quiet spot and a comfortable position. (Stillness is valuable, but you may find a steady activity like walking or swimming helpful as well.)
- Plan the amount of time you want to try to be in silence. If you’re new to it, try starting with one-three minutes. For more experienced travelers, try working up to 15-30 minutes. If helpful, set a timer or alarm so you can relax into the silence without worrying about watching the clock.
- Be in silence. If helpful, light a candle as a focal point or close your eyes. If you’re walking, fix your eyes on a steady spot on the horizon.
- As you are in silence, acknowledge any thoughts, ideas, or feelings that surface. Gently release them and return to your focal point.
- Notice what you hear around you or even perhaps within you, both inward and outward. This is not a time for analysis or cognitive effort. Just notice and pay attention to what happens in the silence.
- After your silence ends, take some time to reflect on your experience. What was it like? Were you distracted? Anxious? Bored? What did you notice during the silence, both about yourself and about what was around you? Did you sense a message from God? From your body? Did you find yourself plagued by some doubt or pain you’ve been avoiding? What did you learn from your experience that might inform your practice of silence next time you try it?
Come back and share your experience in the comment box below. Let’s talk together about what it’s like to learn to become listeners.
On Obeying the Traffic Signs (Part 2)
When we get into this kind of frame of mind, this need to hurry up and rush and get there, we miss everything that happens in between “here” and “there.”
In school, we cram for tests and immediately after forget everything we learned. In relationships, we force people into the expectations and assumptions we already laid out for them. In our spiritual lives, we speak and act according to the authority we recognize without ever considering for ourselves what we really think, how we really feel, and who God really is in our own experience.
Culture doesn’t help. We’re encouraged and even required to fill up our lives with busy-ness, productivity, activity, movement, achievement, and DOING without allowing for any space of quiet, rest, stillness, or being.
But sometimes, if we are attentive enough in the moment, we might notice signs alerting us that we are soon to be driving through a construction zone. We might be able to justify breaking the speed limit (just a little) in construction-free areas, but now the signs warn us of an extra consequence: traffic fines are doubled in construction zones.
Now we have to slow down.
As we begin to pay attention to the traffic signs in our lives, learn to slow down, and sometimes even stop altogether at the roadblocks in our lives, we may recognize — as I did — that we are being routed a whole new way.
My detour has been neither the shortest distance nor the fastest route to my destination. Rather, this detour I am on is the only way to the place where I am going. Without this detour, I would still be spinning my wheels at the roadblock, intent on taking the road I had chosen and ignoring all the signs around me telling me it was not the way.
In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen talks about the phrase, Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims. Ironic that just at the time that I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also learning the value of silence in my own life as well as the value of my own silence in the lives of others. Silence keeps us moving down the path, keeps us walking toward God. In silence we learn the value of our words; we learn wisdom; we learn purification of the heart. To walk this path, the path toward God, we must be silent.
Nouwen also talks about the Greek word hesychia, meaning “the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world alluring, and the demons noisy.” Nouwen describes this kind of prayer as the prayer of the heart, “a prayer that directs itself to God from the center of the person and thus affects the whole of our humanness.”
The prayer of the heart, then, is prayer born out of silence and solitude, defined by a rest that keeps us moving forward toward God, and encompassing our whole selves — mind, body, and spirit.
This is what creating a holistic body theology is moving us toward: a full integration of our whole selves in pursuit of the God who created us a mind-body-spirit beings.
Over the next few months, I’ll be moving toward creating a more intentionally spiritual component to Holistic Body Theology Blog. While there will still be an emphasis on the categories of body theology as defined here, the blog will also be a work in progress toward fuller integration.
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I invite your thoughts, perspectives, and ideas along the way. You can always reach me in the comments section, on my Facebook page, or by email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.
On Obeying Traffic Signs (Part 1)
As a destination-oriented person, my least favorite thing is experiencing the journey. If I learned anything from math class, it was that the shorted distance between two points is a straight line, and that was the motto of my life growing up: choosing the shortest distance between two points.
If the shortest distance wasn’t the fastest route, then I would choose whichever option took the least amount of time. On the road, this would mean choosing the highway over surface streets or bypassing areas of heavy traffic during rush hour.
A byproduct of being destination-oriented is believing that the journey is nothing. It doesn’t exist. It is something to be avoided or minimized as much as possible. In my mind, if I wasn’t already there, I wasn’t anywhere. So I began to rush all the time.
I lived my whole life that way — rushing through, hurtling down the highway of life at 9 miles over the speed limit. Just fast enough to get there sooner but just slow enough to make it through speed traps. Finding the perfect balance was exhausting, but once I set cruise control, I could live my whole life at just the right level of rush without spinning out of control or getting caught and being forced to slow down.
But the road was not always accommodating of my perfect speed. I sped around many an occurrence of debris in the road and squeezed by shoulders cluttered with abandoned cars and construction equipment. Speeding through construction zones doubles the cost because it doubles the risk of injury both to ourselves and others, but nothing was more important to me than minimizing my travel time. I was fixated on the shortest distance or the fastest route — whichever got me there first.
I confess I have ignored many construction zones in my life. I only slowed down as much as I had to, and when I cleared the debris, I hurried on.
The first construction zone that really slowed me down was the completion of my graduate degree. Suddenly, much of the busy-ness and ruckus of life was removed in the wake of student life, and I began to recognize signs of construction in my life. The road had become bumpy and uneven. It was an uncomfortable ride.
I slowed down obediently, but soon the “lead foot” of my destination-oriented understanding of the world hurried me on. If I didn’t get going, I would never get there! (No matter that I did not know where “there” was or why I even wanted to be there.)
I became caught in a cycle of slowing down and speeding up that exhausted me to the point that I eventually ran out of gas.
Then, finally, I was attentive enough to recognize what the construction signs on the highway of my life were really saying.
My way was blocked. I had been spinning my wheels all along against a roadblock. After all my effort and all my rushing, I had not really gone anywhere at all. I could not continue in the way I wanted to go.
It was only then, after I ran out of gas and stopped completely, as I came to rest against the roadblock that had not budged, that I finally noticed the little orange signs with the arrows pointing the way.
DETOUR, they said.
To be continued on Wednesday…
Yep, I’ve got a newsletter now.
I’m entering my second year with Holistic Body Theology, and I’ve been making some small developments around the blog. Here’s one you might not want to miss.
I’m starting up a FREE monthly newsletter. It’s still in the development stage, so we’ll see what it turns into. For now, the newsletter will be featuring updates from around the blog, guided prayer/meditation exercises, recommendations for further reading, and more.
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Blessings on you all today, dear readers!
My brother complained recently that my blog is too often about “women stuff.” Well, he’s right. I write toward a holistic body theology from my perspective as young, white, female, married, member of the 99%, seminarian, and writer — just to name a few descriptors. I don’t speak for everyone’s experience. I can only speak for my own and hope that some part of my story may inspire, inform, or challenge part of yours.
But lovely readers, today is an especially “women-stuff-filled” day, so prepare yourselves. If you are a woman, perhaps you will find something of yourself in the post below.
If you are a man, I hope that you will keep reading and recognize within yourself as you do the way you feel as you read on. Do you feel somewhat excluded? Do you find yourself doing some mental gymnastics to get at the part that relates to your own experience? If so, then you are on your way to discovering what it’s like for women to experience God in a patriarchal framework. My hope is that you will find the experience useful in your own spiritual growth.
If you follow my profile on Goodreads, you’ll know that I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd‘s book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine. I could have quoted half the book for you, but the following passage stood out to me as particularly necessary to inform our holistic body theology.
In Christianity God came in a male body. Within the history and traditions of patriarchy, women’s bodies did not belong to themselves but to their husbands. We learned to hate our bodies if they didn’t conform to an idea, to despise the cycles of mensuration–“the curse,” it was called. Our experience of our body has been immersed in shame.
Let me interrupt to say that the understanding that patriarchy has had a negative impact on female body image is not a new idea for this blog. We’ve touched on this idea here, for instance, and here and here, and even here.
This negative impact must be recognized as a lie and uprooted so there is room for planting new understandings of the body that are more in line with the truth about who we are as human beings: male and female, together we are created in the image of God.
We’ve talked before about how the foundation of holistic body theology is our identity in Christ, but this truth is much more difficult for many women to embrace on a heart-level and experience in their own bodies than it is for men because we first have to break down the gender barrier. We have to “enter into” our identity as the image of God “in a new way,” through an embracing of our physical selves.
Waking to the sacredness of the female body will cause a woman to “enter into” her body in a new way, be at home in it, honor it, nurture it, listen to it, delight in its sensual music. She will experience her female flesh as beautiful and holy, as a vessel of the sacred. She will live from her gut and feet and hands and instincts and not entirely in her head. Such a woman conveys a formidable presence because power resides in her body. The bodies of such women, instead of being groomed to some external standard, are penetrated with soul, quickened from the inside.
I’ve been working on this process for a long time. At my awakening to the need for this “new way,” I struggled to give voice to my experience and name my pain. Now, I am still in the process toward accepting the truth about myself in my physical being and experiencing God in myself in this new way. The journey is not complete. There is more work to be done. One day I trust that I will be able to see myself fully — both spiritually and physically — as the embodiment of God, the imaga Dei.
This is where I am on my journey toward holistic body theology. Where are you?
What did this passage stir up in you? Share your thoughts in the comment box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or via email: bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.
Forward Friday: Blooming Tea
In honor of the new year, I thought I’d try my hand at creating a little video to help provide a springboard for meditation as the old year passes away and we embrace what is to come in 2013.
Before you play the video…
- Find a quite spot and a comfortable position.
- Take a moment to clear your mind of any distracting thoughts.
- Tip: consider allowing the video to load fully before playing.
Play the video…
Respond to the video…
What did you think? Would you like to see more videos like this in the future? What would you add or change? Leave a comment in the box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or by email.