Category Archives: Image of God

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!

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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.

 

Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 1)

From the archives: originally posted January 16th and 17th, 2012

I grew up in a politically and spiritually conservative Southern hometown.  When I was younger, I thought conversations about gender-inclusion were silly, that people who made such a big deal out of small things were petty and that they should stop trying so hard to fight against what’s normal and accepted and expected.  The first time I read dear Madeleine L’Engle‘s Walking on Water, I agreed with her when she wrote,

I am a female of the species man. Genesis is very explicit that it takes both male and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word man includes both….That is Scripture, therefore I refuse to be timid about being part of mankind. We of the female sex are half of mankind, and it is pusillanimous to resort to he/she, him/her, or even worse, android words….When mankind was referred to it never occurred to me that I was not part of it or that I was in some way being excluded.

I agreed with her because I thought that was my experience, too.  I thought I understood myself as intrinsically included equally in the world alongside my brothers, my father, my male classmates, and all the men I knew.  All through grade school, high school, and most of college, I maintained this understanding.  Then in my search for a church community near my college, I stumbled upon a respectable little PCA church nearby.

Being ignorant of the difference between PCA and PCUSA denominations, I began attending. For a while, I enjoyed the verse-by-verse explication of Galatians in the Sunday School class, and I dutifully followed the class into the sanctuary each week for the main church service.

But then I noticed something disturbing.

The senior pastor, a man, would lead us in a weekly congregational prayer for all the men in seminary and all the men on the mission field, asking God to empower the future leaders of the Church.  I found myself wondering, what about the women in seminary and the women on the mission field?  At the time, I already had close female friends in both categories, not to mention I have a number of female missionaries in my family tree, including my grandmother.

Then I noticed something else. There were only men up front.  Men preached.  Men led and performed the music.  Men prayed.  Men served communion.  Men took up the offering.  Once I saw a woman stand up to share an update about the Children’s Ministry, and I was shocked when she stood on the ground in front of the pulpit while the man in the pulpit unhooked the microphone from its stand and handed it down to her.  Why didn’t he just move over so she could speak on the raised stage where everyone could see her? I wondered.  Her speech seemed disembodied because I could only see the slight movement of the top of her head as she spoke. I was disturbed to see a woman in ministry so publicly and literally positioned below a man in ministry.

That was the last time I attended that church.

I didn’t think too much more about the issue until I moved to California after college to enter seminary.  I was surprised at some of the reactions I got from my friends back home.  Some asked me what degree I was pursuing and were visibly relieved when I told them I wasn’t planning to be a pastor.  Others actually told me I was going to hell and stopped speaking to me.  While some of my family members were supportive and even encouraging of my seminary training, others became hurtful and even combative, telling me I should come home, that I shouldn’t be in seminary because I’m a woman.

Then there were the people I met in seminary, both students and professors.  Not just women, but men were advocating for women in ministry, arguing for equality, and providing opportunities for women to step up into leadership positions.  My seminary has a seminary-wide gender-inclusive language policy, and I was surprised as I began sitting in lectures and writing papers how thoroughly ingrained I was in gender-specific language, especially when it came to language about God.

The more I thought about the language I used, the more I realized that I had been wrong when I thought the issue was silly and petty.  I was wrong to agree with Madeleine L’Engle that everyone was intrinsically included in gender-specific language.  The more I learned about the history behind the language and the way it had been used to marginalize and oppress over the centuries, the more convinced I became that it was my responsibility as a woman, as a Christian woman, as a Christian woman who–dare I say it?–has been given certain qualities and skills of a leader, to hold myself to a higher standard of language and to advocate for gender-inclusion, not just in language but in life–church life, home life, and public life.

That’s a tall order.  And as an introvert, as a conflict-avoidant person, and as woman who grew up believing barefoot-and-pregnant was all was I meant to be, living into my calling as a female Christian leader seems impossible. Yet, God does not call us to impossible tasks, for the Bible tells me so: the Spirit of God does not make me timid but gives me power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

Indeed, the Spirit I received does not make me a slave to culture or to other people’s expectations of who I am supposed to be so that I return to live in fear again of coloring outside other people’s lines; rather, the Spirit I received brought about my adoption as a daughter of God–by which I receive all the honor, standing, and inheritance of the Most High God. And because of this Spirit and this adoption, I cry out to God with all the confidence and innocence of a toddler calling for “ma-ma” or “da-da” (or “a-ba”)…and I know God answers me with all the immediacy, care, and tenderness of a proud and loving parent (Romans 8:15).

To be continued in the next post.

 

Will I Be Pretty?

I know this doesn’t have anything to do with Holy Week or Easter or anything in our theme last week and this week, but I couldn’t resist.  If only we were all so enlightened, there would be no need for blogs like HBTB!

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?

Listeners who Shape the Story

Sticker from a recent Listener concert.

Sticker from a recent Listener concert.

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!

Imaga Dei

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello, lovely readers! I know I’ve been MIA here at Holistic Body Theology while I’m recovering from a recurring neck injury.  Just a note to let you know I look forward to getting back into the swing of things next week.

Until then, have a fun-filled, yummy-food-filled, good-friends-and-family-filled Thanksgiving tomorrow!

This year I’m thankful for each of you — for your kind and supportive emails, Facebook messages, blog comments, and all the deep conversations we’ve had over the last few months.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to keep thinking theologically and exploring practically what it looks like to live into healthy, holistic experience of God — mind, body, and spirit.  And I’m thankful that I’ve been fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, adopted by grace through faith in the incarnate Christ into the family of God, and indwelt with the mighty, beautiful, life-changing power of the Holy Spirit — and so have you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year, what are YOU thankful for?

 

Holiness and Beauty: A Meditation

Being an amateur philosopher and a lover of the liberal arts, beauty and aesthetics have always fascinated me. The image of God as Creator, the ultimate source of creativity, has inspired unspeakable awe and wonder. The idea that beauty embodies holiness, or that we may find holiness in the experience of beauty (visually or through the beautiful act or the recognition of beautiful character), sends me back to my undergrad days, reading Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, meditating on the character and mind of God.

God’s holiness is reflected in the beauty of the earth God has created—with just a word! What creative power that Word holds! We, in response, can participate in that holiness when we participate in beauty—enjoying it and creating it.

Consider Isaiah 58:11 and Matthew 6:28-33. What do they tell us about God?

The nature imagery grabs my attention: the well-watered garden, the sun-scorched desert, the splendor of Solomon, the lilies of the field. And then the context of these verses strikes me: Isaiah 58:11 comes as a promise in the midst of fasting, observing the Sabbath, and serving the poor and marginalized.  Matthew 6:28 comes in the midst of the sermon on the mount, as Jesus taught his listeners how to live and serve God.

These passages, these promises, require action on our parts. They require response!

Yet they also promise — in the midst of stress, grief, brokenness, doubt, uncertainty about the future — that God will sustain. They promise that whether we bear concerns of finances, employment, community, love, wisdom and discernment, gifts (creative, intellectual, or spiritual), God will provide.

My mind leaps from scripture to scripture.

Psalm 8—what are human beings that God is mindful of us?

Psalm 42—the deer pants for water.

Isaiah 6—the imagery-laden call in God’s throne room.

Revelation 22:17 – all who are thirsty come to the river of life.

1 Kings 10:23-25—an account of Solomon’s glory. Particularly with Solomon, I think it’s interesting that with all we can do and create on our own, with all the glory that Solomon amassed, it cannot hold a candle to the creative word of God that would speak a lily into existence.

God’s creativity and beauty, like God’s holiness, are so wholly other; yet we are made in the image of that creative and beautiful and holy God, and our words contain the power to create as well.

John 15:1-17—the fruit of the vine that results when we abide in the vine that is Jesus. It is from God that we get our creative gifts, but to use them properly and to their full abundance, we must remain attached to the God through whom flows that creative power. That holiness. That holy, holy, holy holiness. Otherwise we are nothing more than Solomon’s glory, amazing for a moment but lost forever after.

Psalm 29 – the beauty of holiness, this is not a new thought! The Israelites understood this deep connection between beauty and holiness, this innate part of God’s glory that must be recognized and responded to. This creativity is what we were created for (Gen 1-2), to bring forth fruit from the earth.

God provides. God sustains. God — by that creative word — speaks life into us, and we in turn are able to speak life into each other, into the world.

What a holy, beautiful truth.

 

The Compassionate Life (Part 2)

We’re still making our way through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.  Read last week’s posts.  This week, we’re in Part Two: The Compassionate Life. This is my Part 2 on their Part Two, so be sure to read Part 1 here.

We left off Monday talking about Christ Transforming Culture and the redeeming power of voluntary displacement.

More on The Compassionate Life

The authors stress that voluntary displacement is not a method or formula for creating community.  We can’t arbitrarily decide to move somewhere, set up “voluntary displaced community” and somehow magically become compassionate:

[V]oluntary displacement can only be an expression of discipleship when it is a response to a call — or, to say the same thing, when it is an act of obedience…the climax of many years of inner struggle to discover God’s will…Those who practice voluntary displacement as a method or technique to form new community, and thus to become compassionate, will soon find themselves entangled in their own complex motivations and involved in many conflicts and much confusion. (69)

Living compassionate lives within the community of God through voluntary displacement is something that God has to ignite and maintain.  It is our role to listen for the loving voice of God, watch for the action of God in the world, and go join in what God is already doing in which we are called to participate.

What we hear, what we see, and what we are called to join into will not be the same for everyone.  In fact, what we are called to may not look like anything we were expecting at all:

God calls every human being in a unique way and each of us ought to be attentive to God’ voice in our own unique lives…[We must] begin [not] by displacing ourselves…[but by identifying] in our own lives where displacement is already occurring. We may be dreaming of great acts of displacement while failing to notice in the displacements of our own lives the first indications of God’s presence. (70)

Displacement begins with the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and it is that movement that we must be sensitive to if we are going to identify and join in the calling of God on our lives. 

Here I always think of one of my aunts who underwent renovations in her home over several years.  As a homemaker, my aunt found herself enduring the brunt of the daily coordination with the workers, making sure she was always home when the workers were there to answer questions and give them access to different parts of the house.  She was getting tired of all the interruptions and lack of privacy as working men tramped in and out of her house day after week after month, making loud construction noises and leaving the mess of in-progress projects everywhere she went.

She told me last Christmas, as the last of the renovations was finally completed and the workers moved on to another project, that she was surprised to realize how much she had learned about the lives of the men working on her house, how she had had many unexpected opportunities to listen to their stories and problems, offer advice and a new perspective, and even represent a Christian witness in their lives. What had seemed to her an ongoing frustration and imposition while they were working in her home now seemed more like a rare and precious opportunity to be a compassionate presence in the lives of these men who perhaps will never set food inside a church building.

Nouwen says it best:

Displacement is not primarily something to do or to accomplish, but something to recognize. (71)

Careful attention to God’s actions in our lives thus leads us to an even greater sensitivity to God’s call…But no one will be able to hear or understand these very blessed calls if he or she has not recognized the smaller calls hidden in the hours of a regular day. (72)

Voluntary displacement, then, is a lot less about doing and a lot more about developing an attitude and posture of listening for the voice of love in our daily lives. And we are able to listen best when encouraged and supported by the community of God:

[V]oluntary displacement is not a goal in itself; it is meaningful only when it gathers us together in a new way…[and] leads us to understand each other as women and men with similar needs and struggles and to meet each other with an awareness of a common vulnerability. (75)

The Christian community, gathered in common discipleship, is the place where individual gifts can be called forth and put into service for all. It belongs to the essence of this new togetherness that our unique talents are no longer objects of competition but elements of community, no longer qualities that divide but gifts that unite. (77)

If we cannot give and receive compassion among one another within the community of God, how can we hope to live a life compassionate toward everyone else?  If we are struggling for power and control in our own communities, how can we release and share that power with the poor and marginalized all around us?

This is why body theology — specifically the emphasis on equality within the community of God — is so important.  We cannot hear the voice of love for our communities if we are busy fighting among ourselves, worrying about who’s right, who’s biblical, and who’s allowed to do what in the pulpit or in the the pews.

Sharing power and control does not mean we lose everything. It does not mean we give up or quit or run away.  It does not mean we make ourselves less than we are, deny ourselves, or put on false humility. It’s about a choice, a paradigm shift from me-first to preferring-the-other:

Self-emptying does not ask of us to engage ourselves in some form of self-castigation or self-scrutiny, but to pay attention to others in such a way that they begin to recognize their own value…To pay attention to others with the desire to make them the center and to make their interests our own is a real form of self-emptying, since to be able to receive others into our intimate inner space we must be empty.  That is why listening is so difficult. It means our moving away from the center of attention and inviting others into that space…The simple experience of being valuable and important to someone else has tremendous recreative power. (79-80)

When we listen to God’s loving voice as well as the voices of our communities, especially those who are marginalized, we are invited into the perspective of another, and we create space for God’s healing and restoration to begin.  This is also body theology — recognizing ourselves in others and allowing the different perspectives of others to inform our own understanding of what it means to be the image of God and the body of Christ:

When we form a Christian community, we come together not because of similar experiences, knowledge, problems, color, or sex, but because we have been called together by the same God. (81)

Without a diverse and unified community of God around us, we cannot hope to become the compassionate beings God has called us to be.  But when we listen to the voice of God and the wisdom and experience of those around us, we are finally able to recognize the displacement happening in our lives and join in, together, as the BODY of Christ:

God calls everyone who is listening; there is no individual or group for whom God’s call is reserved.  But to be effective, a call must be heard, and to hear it we must continually discern our vocation amidst the escalating demands of our career. Thus, we see how voluntary displacement leads to a new togetherness in which we can recognize our sameness in common vulnerability, discover our unique talents as gifts for the upbuilding of the community, and listen to God’s call, which continually summons us to a vocation far beyond the aspirations of our career. (84)

Living the compassionate life is possible, but only with a listening posture, a community of God, and a willingness to choose the unique voluntary displacement to which God calls each of us.

Next week, we’ll look at Part Three and the Conclusion.  Get excited!

 

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