Book Review: Finding God in the Body

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 11.57.54 AM.pngFinding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West by Benjamin Riggs presents an argument for the value of the role our basic awareness and lived experience plays in our spiritual growth. He draws from his personal experience and blends spiritual truths and practices from both eastern and western traditions.

I found his premise and subject interesting, though I was expecting the majority of the book to delve more deeply into the material that actually comprised just the last 70 pages of the book.  The majority of the book was devoted to a building argument that western spirituality is too focused on thoughts and emotions and misses the body, which he defines as the underlying basic awareness of reality, that our lived experience and physical presence builds upon.

Though I was engaged by the intention, I was somewhat disappointed by the execution. Riggs tended to globalize his experience overmuch and built his argument on assumptions that were not thoroughly supported. In particular, he spent a good portion of the middle of the book arguing with imagined naysayers who are unlikely to read the book anyway, which caused the section to feel preachy and slowed the pace significantly.  I was also extremely disappointed in the entirely unnecessary and prolific use of gender-specific language throughout the book. But that is all I will say on that point.

Overall, it was an okay read. I most appreciated the intention and topic presented in the book. I expect to keep it on my shelf and reread it.  If you are sensitive to strong language or spiritually synchronistic remarks, then this book is not for you; however, it might be helpful if you are experiencing a faith shift or have been burned by fundamentalist religious circles.

Link-Love: 
Finding God in the Body Website
Finding God in the Body on Facebook
Finding God in the Body Podcast

#FindingGodSpeakeasy

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Book Review: Blessed Are the Weird: A Manifesto for Creatives

Blessescreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-6-49-44-pmd Are the Weird: A Manifesto for Creatives by Jacob Nordby lives up to its title as a public declaration of the ideals of his Blessed Are the Weird online tribe.  Nordby expounds on his original short piece, drawing on the model of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  Each chapter delves into a line from the original piece.

What I appreciate most about this book is the overall energy.  At one point I even wrote in the margin, “This book is like one long motivational speech!” His obvious passion and personal stake in the subject matter propel the reader along from one idea to the next. My biggest takeaway from the book was this: “In our formula for Real Magic, the first thing is to know ourselves.  Next, we ask what we truly desire” (141).

The pace gets significantly bogged down by the so very, very many long and repetitive quotations.  I found myself wishing he had taken more time to paraphrase and integrate the concepts into his chapters rather than just peppering them with large amounts of other people’s words.  It made me wonder if underneath his energy and passion there might still be some insecurity whispering that he needed to prove his position had merit with the support of lots of things other people had said.  I also found the chapters to wear a little long, and the pace (and my engagement) waned toward the end of the book.

Overall, I think anyone who is an Enneagram 4 will appreciate and resonate with this book.  His mission, as I understand it, is to free people from being locked in their mundane and “soul-killing” lives to pursue what they were really made to do–whatever that might be, and however weird, strange, and magical it might seem to everyone else.

If you are sensitive about strong language or spiritually synchronistic remarks, then this book is not for you.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Book Review: The Willow Basket

I’m happy to announce that I have joined a network called Speakeasy, which provides books for bloggers to review. I will, from time to time, be adding book reviews from this network to the Book Review page of my website.  Email subscribers will automatically receive new book review posts when they are published.

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willowbasketThe Willow Basket is a historical romance novel by Adrienne Peterson.  I was first interested in reviewing this book because of its claim to involve elements of mysticism and faith through dreams, which greatly intrigued me.  I was excited about the possible connections to be made between the spiritual life and the ordinary, daily life and the resulting possible implications for our ongoing discussion of holistic body theology.

Unfortunately, I was largely disappointed by this book, in part likely due to the expectations I brought to the experience of reading the novel.  In addition to its poor writing style, undeveloped characters, and plot holes, I actually didn’t realize The Willow Basket was going to be a romance novel, which is not a genre I particularly enjoy.  But that is all the literary critique I will offer.

What I appreciated about the novel was its attempt to paint the main character as an unintentional mystic who despite the lack of support and understanding from her boyfriend and family, not to mention her own apprehensions and confusion, managed to stay with the unexplained experiences she was having.  Instead of shutting it all down, she willingly and intentionally opened herself up to the dreams/visions/ghost visitations (the plot was never very clear about that point), received from them what they freely offered her, and then used what she experienced to inform her work and even her life choices.  Although the main character was clearly aware that her experience of the spiritual realm was counter-cultural, she leaned in anyway and chose to surround herself with those people (namely, her archeologist friend) in her life who would encourage and help her understand her experiences.  I also liked that the mystical experiences she had were connecting her to past generations of women in her family history, which I think in our American culture we are often all to quick to forget or appreciate.

Ultimately, it was not my kind of fiction, and I found myself too easily pulled out of the story and distracted by the overall lack of craft.  But if you like romance novels, then it might be worth a read.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Spiritual Practice of Drinking Wine (or how wine tasting taught me mindfulness)

I’ve been doing these “Spiritual Practice of…” posts for so long now that practically anything I do seems like a potential spiritual practice.  Since I’ve already written about how everything is spiritual, I won’t belabor the point here but it does amaze me to consider what an effect this series (and HBTB in general) has had on my spiritual and daily life.  I find myself somehow more integrated, more holistic.  And isn’t that the point?

So, dear lovely readers, let’s get down to business with the

Spiritual Practice of Drinking Wine (or how wine tasting taught me mindfulness)

Since moving to the Santa Barbara area more than two years ago and living so close to wine country, my husband and I have enjoyed the luxury of trying a variety of higher quality wines at a relatively lower price point than other parts of the country.  And being surrounded by wineries and wine drinkers has made the wine culture more accessible.

Here are some things wine tasting can teach us.

1) Prepare. Since I am nothing close to a wine connoisseur, I always like to read the descriptions that usually accompany a wine tasting and ask questions of the server about what the winery is known for, the process of making the wine, and what experience they want me to have.  I pay attention to key words like “earthy” or “finish” and try to prepare my palate to experience fully the wine I am about to taste.

2) Breathe. Experienced wine tasters will tell you the first thing you do when you receive a glass of wine is swirl the wine around a little in the glass to aerate it and then stick your nose in and breathe deeply to experience the wine first with your sense of smell. 

3) Taste. Wine tasting is not really about drinking wine at all.  It’s about tasting.  When you taste wine, you don’t just drink it.  For one thing, you usually get at the most about an 1/8 of a glass of any wine on the tasting list.  That’s not even enough for one gulp.  Tasting wine is about really, really tasting it, taking a small sip of wine in through your lips, rolling it around in your mouth so that it touches all parts of your tongue, and even sometimes slurping or gargling a little before finally swallowing.  The point is to engage your sense of taste fully with every sip.  Some dedicated wine tasters will even spit out the wine after tasting it so the alcoholic effects don’t hinder the next tasting.

4) Notice.  Here is where mindfulness really comes in for me.  At every point in the process of tasting a particular bottle of wine, my attention is fully claimed.  From the moment the wine enters my glass, I am observing the color, feeling the weight of the glass in my hand as I swirl, breathing deeply to smell as much as I can from what the description tells me to expect, and then finally taking a small sip onto my tongue to contemplate the flavor as it slowly makes its way to the back and down my throat.  I savor.  All my senses are engaged. With this sip of wine in my mouth, I am fully present in this moment in an embodied way.  Then, before I take another sip, I consider the finish and the aftertaste. I compare it to the other wines I’ve had and to my expectations from the description.

5) Repeat.  And then, slowly, I go through the process again.  Do I pick up any nuances I missed on the first sip?  Is my palate more discerning on this trip than last time? Can I appreciate the wine more fully than I did last time?

6) Share. Wine tastings, like many activities, are more fun with friends.  Since my husband and I often go together, I like to ask him about his experience of the wine we are tasting.  What did he notice? How did it compare to other wines we have tasted? I find that sharing in his experience and sharing mine with him creates a greater depth.  My wine tasting experience would be incomplete without this opportunity to share with and learn from each other.

7) Change. I have found that since I started wine tasting, I accidentally apply this method to other beverages I try.  New blend of lemonade on the menu? Let me swirl it around in my glass and breathe it in first.  It’s led to some odd looks from dinner companions, I’ll admit.  But that has only further impressed upon me the benefits of drinking wine as spiritual practice.  Slowing down and allowing our activities and experiences to fully engage us in the present moment—fully engaging our bodies, minds, and spirits—helps us cultivate a valuable and lifelong habit reminiscent of Brother Laurence’s practicing the presence of God.

What do you think? Let your voice be heard in the comment box below!

 

You are worth more than your body or your sex appeal.

One of the central themes of holistic body theology is cultural discernment.  Our culture has many valuable gifts to bestow, but there are also many lies and harmful beliefs perpetuated.  That’s why media literacy is so important.  We have to recognize the messages around us and decide for ourselves whether we will accept them as truth or not.

But before we can even develop that discernment, we have to first know who we are.  If our identity is not sure, then we are so much more easily swayed by others’ attempts to tell us who we are or who we should be.  As Christians, we identify as children of God.  The foundation of our identity is built on Jesus, the incarnate divine being, perfectly holy and fully flesh.

Holistic body theology, then, is about realizing our embodied holiness in our everyday lives.  This is hard enough for those of us who live out our lives in quiet and relative obscurity.  How much greater the struggle for secure identity and wise discernment among the many messages of our culture when in the unique opportunity to create those messages for ourselves.

I don’t usually engage in ongoing conversations about the latest thing in popular culture, but Sinead O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus carries too important a message to worry about getting caught up in current debate.  Regardless of the various opinions floating around about Ms. Cyrus’ motivations, etc., Ms. O’Connor’s effort still gets kudos from HBTB for being willing to speak hard truths about the reality of sexual exploitation of women working in the music industry.

Here are some highlights from her letter:

[…]Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent[….]
I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it’s associated media.

You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever … Don’t be under any illusions … ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty…

Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you[….] And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself[….]

Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted … its so not cool Miley … its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers … that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career[….]

The value of Ms. O’Connor’s open letter is that her message is for more than just Miley Cyrus and other women in the music industry.  It is also a message for those relative-obscurity-living-in people like you and I.  We have a responsibility to engage wisely in the world around us.  When we buy magazines or watch videos on Youtube or tune into entertainment news, we are telling the media and the world what we are interested in.  “Sex sells” is a well-known and proven marketing adage for a reason.  Sex sells because people buy it.

So, my dear lovely readers, here is my open letter to you:

Know who you are.  Make choices that reflect your identity and honor your worth.  Live a life that sells what is truly worth buying.  Live a life worthy of the precious, beautiful, unique, beloved child of God that you are.

You, dear readers, are worth more than your body.  You are worth more than your sexual appeal. You are too valuable just because of the simple fact that you are a human being on this earth to believe anything less about yourself or about any other human being on this earth.  You are worth more than the low, base messages in the media.  You and I, and Ms. Cyrus and Ms. O’Connor, and every other person deserve better.  We all deserve to be known and honored and valued and loved for our whole selves — mind, body, and spirit.

Let’s sell that for a change.

Helen Fisher on Why We Love and Cheat

I ran across this video and wanted to share it here. Back in 2006, Helen Fisher shared some of her research on the brain chemistry of love.  It’s a bit longer than most TedTalks, so if you’re running short on time, I recommend jumping to minute 7:45-13:20 where she talks about the impact of women in the workforce and gender differences in the brain or to minute 13:20-18:00 where she talks about sexuality, love, and marriage.

And then God showed up.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

I wasn’t going to put up a blog post today.  Fact is, I’ve been feeling pretty ambivalent about keeping this blog going at all.  I vacillate between “It’s not worth the energy; no one reads it” and “It’s so important; this is what I’m passionate about.”  I am alternately discouraged that I don’t have the stats to rival my favorite bloggers and discouraged with myself for not producing whatever would earn me those stats.  “I am tired; I am weak; I am worn. Take my hand, precious Lord.”

So yeah, I wasn’t going to post today.  I was feeling whiny and small and overlooked.  I was feeling voiceless.  I was giving up.

But this morning I woke up at the crack of dawn.  Which I hate and never do because morning people are all terrible, chipper, and HAPPY in the morning.  I cannot relate.

But this morning I woke up anyway, before the sun was up, before my husband was up, and by 6am I had tossed and turned myself right out of bed, into my clothes, and across the street to the misty, deserted salt marsh.

The marine layer was so low I couldn’t even see the tips of the mountains to my left or the horizon between the cloud cover and the Pacific Ocean on my right.  Everything was quiet, except for that man talking loudly on his phone as I passed his window.  (Who makes calls at 6am? Morning people!)

I walked slowly, not quite contemplatively, through the sage along the gravel path and wound my way across the estuary. I stopped on the bridge and watched the ducks and leopard sharks swim in wide circles and figure 8s.  I breathed deeply. I looked up at the misty morning, still dark enough that my sensitive eyes could take everything in through their own lenses and not the dark ones I carry with me everywhere.  I continued on.

I turned on my iPod and played a guided Lectio Divina reading I downloaded from my new friend Christianne Squires’ Cup of Sunday Quiet. (I highly recommend it, by the way!) I walked slowly through the salt marsh, noticed my breathing, and listened to a gospel reading in Christianne’s measured voice.  I walked. I breathed. I listened.

And then God showed up.

I don’t know why I am always surprised when God does that.  But I am, every single time.  Maybe it’s because at the bottom of everything, at the very root of the deepest lies that cause the woundedness in my life, I don’t believe God is trustworthy.  Still.  Even after all the healing, all the truth, all the trust God and I have built up in our relationship over the years.  Even after the dark night of the soul and the wilderness experience and all the ways God has tried to mature my faith, even now I am still surprised when God shows up.

I expect it more often. I trust that despite my lack of faith it will happen.  But I’m still surprised.

Or maybe it’s more that God just enjoys surprising me.  Maybe it’s that God delights in delighting me.  Maybe it’s like God is playing hide-and-seek with the child in myself.

Me: God, where are you? I’m looking for you.

God: Here I am! You found me!

And you know what? I just couldn’t wait to get back home and put up this blog post.  Because really and truly, my lovely readers, know this: God delights in delighting you, too.  God enjoys surprising us.  God, with infinite wisdom and gentle grace, continues to show up for each of us, every time.  All we have to do is get quiet, get listening.

All we have to do is show up, too.

Meditative Movement and Imaging the Presence of God

photo credit: RelaxingMusic via photopin

photo credit: RelaxingMusic via photopin

Hello, lovely readers! I’m back to blogging after an unofficial month-ish off.  Did you miss me?

After some much needed rest and a break from productivity, I’m excited to get back to HBTB and share what has been coming up for me this summer.

Learning to rest and to allow myself to feel unproductive has been an ongoing challenge.  There is always that lingering guilt and pressure to perform and to do so that I’m not wasting my time or being lazy.

But I have found that if I can get to a place of allowing myself to become restful and to be, then I am able to experience so much needed restoration and rejuvenation that I could never access otherwise.  It is a constant choice toward balance, a journey to the middle.  I’m getting there.

In my own spiritual life, I have found such peace and life in pursuing contemplative forms of prayer.  One way that I am moving toward balance in my life is seeking out forms of meditative movement that provide the opportunity to release my mind from the rigors of left-brained living as well as engage my body in the overall spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of my whole self.

There are a number of forms of meditative movement around.  Some, like body prayer, can be very overtly Christian while others, like Yoga, are more accessible to a variety of faith traditions including those who claim none.  In my search for a gentle, meditative exercise that would be kind to my currently limited physical condition, I came across Qi Gong.  Similar to Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and other movements, Qi Gong is the practice of visualizing the healing flow of energy throughout the body using a series of stretches and motions designed to promote healing and health.

Here’s a description of Qi Gong that I really like:

If the language of “energy” is uncomfortable to you, you might like this meditation on The Lord’s Prayer using Qi Gong movements:

For me, talking about the healing flow of energy always makes me think of the active movement of the Holy Spirit, which is the presence of God within and around us.  I often visualize the Holy Spirit as a wisp of smoke like from an extinguished candle or a living ball of gentle light. Sometimes the light becomes a bright fireball in my mind’s eye!

What about you?

Do you have an image that represents the presence of God in your life? Maybe you like the scriptural images of wind, water, or a white dove.  Share your image in the comment box below. I always love hearing from you!

Cameron Russell on the power of images

Today I thought it would be fun to share this TedTalk by Victoria Secret model Cameron Russell on her experience winning the “genetic lottery” and benefiting from a social system that oppresses so many people based on how they look.  It’s a little awkward, very honest, and definitely thought-provoking.

So, what did you think of Russell’s talk? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 2)

From the archives: originally posted January 18th and 19th, 2012

Read Part 1.

Now to come to the point.  After all this journey toward freedom from gender-specific language about people and about God, I still don’t have all the answers. I still don’t have it all worked out.  I’m not sure anyone does.  We live in a time where change happens so quickly.  We try to define the era we live in while we’re living in it, an impossible task.  So instead of being prescriptive and laying out a neat outline of what must be done as an advocate of gender-inclusive language, I choose to be descriptive and share what works for me and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.

I think any effort to be gender-inclusive, even if it’s done imperfectly, should be commended for the effort itself.

So if you like to “he/she” and “himself/herself” your way through the world, that’s wonderful.

If you prefer to “he” your way through one paragraph and “she” your way through the next, that’s excellent, too.

If you’re a “oneself” kind of person, which some people consider a little stilted and impersonal, I will still appreciate you.

And if you’re like me, you might prefer simply “we”-ing through the whole thing and when “we”-ing doesn’t fit well, bringing back the singular “they” which had fallen out of use for a century or two and is steadily gaining new life again.

Then of course, let’s not forget to transform those “mans” and “mankinds” into “humans,” “peoples,” “humanitys,” “human races” and even “humankinds.”

(Confused? Here’s a helpful guide on gender-inclusive language.)

So “we” have now established that effort toward a mindfulness of gender-inclusive language is preferable when talking about ourselves and each other.  But what about when we talk about God?

Remember when Madeleine L’Engle was writing about her perspective on gendered language? She referred to Genesis 1:27 as the basis for “man” being inclusive of both male and female.  Here’s how the TNIV translates the verse:

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

If it takes both a man and a woman together to represent the image of God, then why is it that we often only use male language when referring to God?  One common argument is that God is described in male language in the Bible; therefore, Bible-believing Christians must follow God’s example and continue to use male language to describe God.

Let me be clear.  I do not think there is anything wrong with using male language or masculine imagery for God.  In fact, God as the Father is one of my most precious expressions for God in my personal spiritual journey.

What I think is unhelpful is referring to God using male language at the exclusion of female language and feminine imagery.  Christian mothers like Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena helped bridge the gap by describing God using male language and at the same time feminine imagery.  For example, Julian of Norwich wrote of Jesus nursing us at his breasts and described Jesus as “our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

In today’s Christian culture, many people are too quick to settle on God as Him and dismiss the movement of the Mother-Father-God-ers as radical and perhaps even heretical.  For me, I strive for a more moderate stance.  That’s why I avoid gender-specific pronouns when I talk about God.  That’s why I still refer to Jesus as male (because he was a man, even if he isn’t still).  That’s why I like to refer to the Holy Spirit as female, because so much of my experience of the divine feminine has come through encounters with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit-inspired.

Even when I must use gender-specific pronouns so as not to write myself into ridiculously awkward sentence structures, I try to use “he” and “him” or “she” and “her.”  That way I know I am not saying God is “He” as in God-the-All-Masculine or “She” as in God-the-All-Feminine.  Instead, I say God is “he” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-masculine or God is “she” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-feminine.  In this way, I am able to balance the masculine and the feminine aspects of the Trinity, which is very biblical.  At least for right now, this is what works for me.

(Does the idea of God as “she” rock your world? Ask yourself what it would be like if the situation were reversed and God as “he” was revolutionary.  Watch out for double standards and try to be mindful of the way language may affect others, even if it doesn’t affect you that way.)

We all know that when the pendulum swings away from one extreme, it inevitably swings right past the middle and reaches the other extreme before it can gradually settle more and more toward the balance the middle brings.  My journey with gender-inclusive language has swung from one side where “man” includes both men and women to the other side where God as “He” and “Him” makes me feel like I, as “she” and “her,” am not part of the image of God after all.

Maybe my reaction is too extreme.  Maybe as the pendulum of my journey continues to swing back and forth, I will come closer and closer to the perfect balance of the middle ground.

But I’m not there yet.

So for now, oh ye readers, you will see me still swinging.  Let’s approach both ourselves and each other with grace, and give each other room to swing out as far as we need to, safe in the knowledge that we will also have room to swing back.

 

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