Monthly Archives: February 2013

Mini-sabbatical: Gone to school

Hello, my dear lovely readers!

Well, I’m off to Arizona for a short certificate program in Spiritual Direction.  Because of the schedule while I’m away, I won’t be posting anything new on HBTB for the next two weeks. I’ll be back to the regular schedule on March 11th.

But don’t worry!  If you miss me, you can follow my experience on Twitter and over at my old spirituality blog: Of the Garden Variety.  I’ll be reflecting daily on my classes and what God is stirring up, whatever that may be!

Be sure to follow that blog if you want email updates while I’m away.

You can also sign up for the monthly newsletter to get exclusive updates, book recommendations, suggested meditation exercises, and more.  If you sign up before the end of the month, you’ll get the link to an exclusive guided meditation video for Lent when the newsletter arrives in your inbox.  Newsletters come out the last day of the month. Best part is, it’s free!

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Forward Friday: Seek the Hidden Life

This week we’ve been discussing what Lent is all about in the wise words of Henri Nouwen.  We’ve looked at being ready, returning to God and our true identity, pursuing the hidden life, and being reconciled both to God and to others.

There are so many ways we could use what we learned this week to move forward toward a holistic body theology.  But this weekend, let’s focus on what we need first to get it all started.

Seek the hidden life.

There are all sorts of ways we can pursue the hidden life that Jesus modeled for us. This weekend, look for opportunities to choose the hidden life over the praise of the world.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make an anonymous donation.
  • Get up early or in the middle of the night for some alone time with God, and don’t share your experience with anyone.
  • Put a rubber band around your wrist and take a moment to pray (without anyone noticing) every time you notice it’s there throughout the day.  If anyone asks about the rubber band, just tell them it’s there in case you need it.
  • Perform a random act of kindness when no one is around to see or thank you.  This could be anything from running the dishwasher to picking up trash on the sidewalk.
  • Fast something. Whether it’s for Lent, for the weekend, or for a day, give something up, and make sure no one notices except you and God.

 

Reconciliation and the Hidden Life

 

On Monday, we looked at an excerpt from Henri Nouwen‘s Sabbatical Journey and unpacked some of his reflections about Lent.  We focused more on the beginning and end of the passage, but today I really want to focus on what he says in the middle.

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.

I always love how honest Nouwen is about what it’s like to be human.  He acknowledges all our fallen nature, our pride and guilt and selfishness and all the rest, yet he uses his own vulnerability to draw us into closer relationship with the Divine.

How often I fail at living the “hidden life” Jesus modeled for us.  How easily I am distracted and motivated by the praise the world gives.  How quickly I stray from the one thing I want.  The psalmist calls it an undivided heart.  John calls it remaining in God.  Nouwen calls it communion with God.

It is only when we are living this hidden life that we are able to be in right relationship with others.  It is only when we acknowledge our need for and accept God’s forgiveness that we are able to acknowledge our need for and ask for forgiveness from others or give them our forgiveness, even if they do not ask or acknowledge the need.

Lent is a time for reconciling ourselves to God and to others (not to mention to ourselves) so that when Easter morning comes, we are fully able to understand and celebrate the event that forever reconciled the world to God.

This process is big and important. It is difficult. It requires humility and honesty, vulnerability and transparency.  It requires intention and space.

But the good news is, reconciliation starts with God, and with God, it is already finished!

 

That Loving Embrace

I’ve gotten in the habit of reading at significant moments of the church year the book Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, a collection of writings from Henri Nouwen associated with the different times of the church year.

As always, Nouwen’s writings have the uncanny ability to focus my scattered thoughts and emotions and say exactly what I want to say about Lent:

I am certainly not ready for Lent yet.  Christmas seems just behind us, and Lent seems an unwelcome guest. I could have used a few more weeks to get ready for this season of repentance, prayer, and preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus…

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God.  It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.  Lent is a time of refocusing, of re-entering the place of truth, of reclaiming our true identity.

Two things most striking to me about this passage from Sabbatical Journey.

1) He admits he’s not ready for Lent.  I love this honesty! It gives me the freedom to admit that I’m not ready for it, either.  For all my efforts to slow down, rest, and develop a rhythm of life that creates space for the contemplative life I am pursuing, I find myself continually distracted by unnecessary things, preoccupied by the demands of the moment, and anxious about things that don’t really matter.  It’s nice to know Lent can sneak up on even the best of us.

2) He defines Lent as the time for returning to God and reclaiming our true identity.  The image that comes to mind is God with arms outstretched and a huge smile, eagerly awaiting my return to that loving embrace.  I sense that God is excited about this time of year when we take time out of our day to call our wandering attention to the presence of God around us and within us, still knocking, patiently waiting for us to open the door.

It is only when we are safely in this loving embrace, flinging the door wide open and saying, “come on in,” that we are able to experience ourselves both as fully known and fully knowable.  We are finally able to recognize ourselves as the beloved children of God, welcomed into the family as we all prepare together for the coming of Easter.

So maybe you’re not feeling ready for this season either.  Maybe you’ve been distracted and rushed and overwhelmed.  Well then, you’re not alone!  You’ve got 36 more days to reconcile yourself to God and prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  You’ve got 36 more days to remember who you are, whose you are, and return to the loving embrace of the One who has been waiting for you all along.

Forward Friday: YOU define body theology

I’ve been thinking all week about Isherwood’s definition of body theology as created through the body rather than about the body.  Our tendency is to relate to our bodies as something “other,” as a separate entity that is not the same as our “self.”  As Isherwood says elsewhere in that chapter, our language betrays our perspective when we say that we have bodies rather than that we are bodies.

This weekend, take some time to reflect and perhaps journal on the following question:

How do YOU define body theology?

This question is more than a cognitive exercise in generating a pithy statement about what you believe the term “body theology” means or what the phrase evokes in you, though these are of course useful exercises as well.  What I’m really asking here, what I’m encouraging you to ask yourselves this weekend, is this:

How does who you are as a mind-body-spirit being, designed by and created in the image of the Divine Being who defies all category and definition (including age, race, and gender), and believer in and follower of the way of the incarnate, flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing, dwelling-among-us, crucified-and-resurrected Emmanuel (which means God-with-us) — how do YOU define body theology? 

How is body theology defined through the unique physical human being only YOU can be?  What does your experience of being alive in your own skin bring to the table? What does your body teach us about who God is and about who we are as the community of God?  How is God made manifest in and through you that is only possible because you are a bundle of tangible flesh?

This is a big question.

Open yourself up to the possibilities presented by this kind of approach to theological reflection.  Really sit with the reality God reveals to you.  Write it down or talk through your experience with a trusted friend.

Then come back and share in the comment box below.  What came up for you as you meditated on these questions?

What is body theology? another definition

This week we’re exploring the various definitions of body theology out there.  Read HBTB’s definition of body theology. Read James B. Nelson’s definition from Monday.

Now let’s consider an excerpt from Introducing Body Theology by Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart. Take some time to read and reflect on the passages below.

[B]ody theology…creates theology through the body and not about the body.  Working through the body is a way of ensuring that theories do not get written on the bodies of “others” who then become marginalized and objects of control. It is also a way of deconstructing the concept of truth that Christianity used to hold so many falsehoods in place.  Once one moves from the notion that there is absolute truth into which the bodies of people have to fit, the way is open to begin questioning and we soon realize that truth is not the issue in relation to prescriptions about the body, but power.  Christian history shows us the extent to which power has been exerted over bodies in the name of divine truth and the crippling results.  If the body is given the space and power to speak what will be the consequences for both the body and theology?

… Body politics have exposed the underlying power games at work in sexuality and society and by so doing have become a source of inspiration and liberation for many.  Christianity is an incarnational religion that claims to set captives free, it tells us it is a religion of liberation.  Yet it underpins many of the restrictive practices that body politics expose.  In some cases Christianity has been the instigator of these practices because of its dualistic vision of the world.

The questions being posed in our time are to do with the body, that of the world as well as the individual.  Can body politics ever become body theology in a truly radical and transforming way?  This might mean for example, that the Christian religion…risk taking the bodies of women seriously as sites of revelation in the creation of theology….That it develop a sexual ethic that takes seriously the desire of all and integrates it into a mutual and freeing celebration of embodiment.

…The Christian faith tells us that redemption is brought through the incarnation of God. A redemption that could not be wished or just thought, even by God herself, she had to be enfleshed.  Therefore, it can be argued that until the body is liberated from the patriarchal ties that bind it, many of which have been set in place by Christianity, creation will never understand the truly liberating power of incarnation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  React to and engage with the quotation above in the comment box below.

What is body theology? a miniseries

This week, let’s take a little step back and consider more about just what body theology is, how it has been defined and how we define it here at HBTB.

Read Holistic Body Theology Blog’s definition of body theology.

Below is an excerpt from Body Theology by James B. Nelson.  Take some time to read and digest what he says about the relation between our human bodies and the incarnation of Christ.

What, then, is body theology? It is nothing more, nothing less than our attempts to reflect on bodily experience as revelatory of God….Theologically, [embodiment] means Jesus as the Christ, the expected and anointed one.  Through the lens of this paradigmatic embodiment of God, however, Christians can see other incarnations: the christic reality expressed in other human beings in their God-bearing relatedness.  Indeed, the central purpose of Christology…is not affirmations about Jesus as the Christ. Rather, affirmations about Jesus are in the service of revealing God’s christic presence and activity in the world now.

…[T]he human body is language and a fundamental means of communication. We do not just use words. We are words.  This conviction underlies Christian incarnationalism. In Jesus Christ, God was present in a human being not for the first and only time, but in a radical way that has created a new definition of who we are.  In Christ we are redefined as body words of love, and such body life in us is the radical sign of God’s love for the world and of the divine immediacy in the world.

The time is upon us for recapturing the feeling for the bodily apprehension of God. When we do so, we will find ourselves not simply making religious pronouncements about the bodily life; we will enter theologically more deeply into this experience, letting it speak of God to us, and of us to God. (emboldened emphases mine)

Thoughts? Questions? Reflections? Share in the comment box below.

 

Forward Friday: Create your own spiritual practice

This week we’ve been talking about finding spiritual practices within daily life, in everything from flossing to breathing.  In the words of Rob Bell, everything is spiritual.

This weekend, take some time to create your own spiritual practice.

It doesn’t have to be hard work.  We breathe without any intentional effort and only stop breathing with concerted effort and for an extremely limited time.  So, too, spiritual practice can be just as natural and even just as involuntary.

All it takes is desire and decision.

Find a practice that feels natural to you.  Maybe it’s taking a daily walk, reading a morning Psalm, making dinner, driving to work, or breathing.  Make it something that is already part of your natural routine, something that you can use to call your attention to the holy and sacred in the normal pace of life.

Whatever it is, decide to make that activity — however innocuous or normal it may seem — your invitation to the Holy Spirit.

Try it and see what happens.

Then come back and share your spiritual practice in the comment box below.

The Spiritual Practice of Breathing

Spiritual rhythms are like bodily rhythms: respiration requires both inhaling and exhaling, taking in and letting go. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction

Breathing is perhaps the oldest and most widely accepted spiritual practice that involves the whole mind-body-spirit being.  Aside from Buddhist and Zen uses of focused breathing to enhance mediation, Christians have long used breathing as prayer practice, perhaps the most well known of which is the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is a simple, repetitive prayer to be used as you breathe in and out:

Inhale: Lord Jesus, Son of God,

Exhale: have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

A simple Google search of “Jesus Prayer” pulls up a number of very helpful descriptions and guides for breath prayer, so I won’t reinvent the wheel.  What I want to point out is this:

We have been created for rhythm and ritual, repetition and regularity.  Just as our bodies depend on the pattern of heartbeat and inspiration/expiration to function and remain alive, so our spiritual selves depend on patterns of spiritual practice to function and remain alive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

This is who we are. We are mind-body-spirit beings.  We are creatures of habit.  We are soothed by the rhythmic sound of rain or waves.  We reduce stress with slow, steady breathing and periodic times of quiet.

We meet God in the most ordinary, uninspired moments. We come alive with the breath of God.  God comes to walk with us in the garden, to enjoy our company in the cool of the evening.  All we have to do is be available and attentive, recognize the presence of God in our daily experience, and open ourselves to the tingly rinse of the Holy Spirit within us.

It’s as easy and natural as breathing in and out and in.  It’s who we are.  It’s who we’ve been created to be.

Next time the world feels like it’s crashing in on you, next time you’re stressed out and rushing, next time it all feels like too much — take a moment, and breathe.

The Spiritual Practice of Flossing

I was never a fan of flossing growing up. Although I had the good fortune to have nearly perfect teeth (thanks, mom and dad), my gums have always been on the sensitive side, so flossing is an unpleasant task. When we moved to Santa Barbara, I switched dentists and have been enduring regular lectures at my cleanings about improving my flossing habits ever since.

Here’s what I’ve learned about flossing over the past year:

  1. It’s not just for after you eat popcorn or celery.
  2. It hurts, and it will make you bleed.
  3. If you don’t keep doing it, it keeps hurting.
  4. Not flossing can result in cavities in the impossible-to-reach-with-a-toothbrush places between your teeth, no matter how good you are about brushing.
  5. No matter how good your teeth are, if your gums are unhealthy, your teeth will eventually loosen and fall out.
  6. You have to floss regularly or you lose most of the benefits of doing it at all.
  7. You have to get way down into the crevices or it’s not really worth doing.
  8. Be gentle but also vigorous.
  9. Use antiseptic mouthwash after to kill off the newly-exposed bacteria.

I just went to the dentist last week and got the lecture all over again. True, I’ve flossed more in the last year than I had in my whole life. I’ve made progress, but I still have room for improvement. I can be more diligent, more vigorous, more intentional. I can pay more attention to the task at hand and properly prepare my gums for that final tingly rinse.

And I got to thinking, as I dutifully wound thread through my teeth every night this week, that God sure has a sense of humor.

Ever since I first heard of body theology back in seminary, I have been learning to be more attentive to the connection between mind, body, and spirit that makes up who we are as human beings, made in the image of God. But that first day, when my world opened up to a more holistic way of being and relating, I never would have imagined that several years later I’d be blogging about the spiritual lessons in ordinary bodily experiences like bathing, eating, sleeping, sneezing, menstruating, hiking, farting, or flossing.

God is having a little fun with me.  Well, two can play at that game. So here we go.

What’s spiritual about flossing? It’s a lot like confession.

In confession, whether we reveal ourselves to another trusted person or only to the God who knows all and loves us anyway, we learn to do the routine work of clearing away the debris from our hearts and minds.  But if we want to stay healthy and experience God’s healing in the deepest places, we’ve got to do more than brush the easy-to-reach surfaces.  We’ve got to do some flossing.

We’ve got to get way down into those crevices where our sin, shame, guilt and baggage like to set up residence.  Even if the big, outward parts of ourselves are pretty healthy, letting that stuff fester will eat away at our roots until the healthy stuff loosens and starts to fall away. We’ve got to be diligent and consistent, even though it hurts and there may be blood in the sink for a while. But then, once we’ve gotten way down deep and exposed that debilitating bacteria, we find we’ve made room in those crevices for the healing power of God, that tingly rinse we call the Holy Spirit.

Our gums won’t heal overnight. Some of the damage might already have life-long consequences or require intervention from a professional. But if we keep at it, night after night, we will find ourselves slowly being restored to full health, maybe a health we didn’t even know was possible.

God is big like that.

God does the work of healing and transformation in our lives. Without salvation, grace, and the powerful, active work of the Holy Spirit, we would all be toothless. But when we join in and take an active role in our healing, we find we are on the road to being fully restored as the mind-body-spirit beings we were created to be — the good and unique handiwork of God.

What healing and restoration is God calling you to in your own life? Think about that next time you floss.

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