Category Archives: Incarnation of Christ

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.

 

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Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  – Luke 2:10-11 TNIV

More than any other emotion, fear is what keeps us apart from God.  We fear that we are not worthy.  We fear that we are not enough.  We fear that the letting go will hurt more than the holding on.

As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus on this Christmas Eve, consider once more the powerful words of Henri Nouwen, this time from Gracias!

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy.  This is the greatest mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain.  Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.  Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him — whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend — be our companion.

My prayer for us all this Christmas season is that we would allow God to walk with us in our deepest places, hold us in our pain and loneliness, guide us in our confusion, forgive us in our guilt, and wash away our shame.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us receive fully and respond with joy to the real and active presence of God in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

On Waiting

Advent is the season of waiting for the birth of Christ.  For your reading pleasure, below are several excerpts on the theme of waiting from a longer piece on being left-handed that I wrote in 2009.

…My soy candle burns often in these succeeding months since my January decision to live into this season of waiting.  I sit in my roommate’s rocking chair in the afternoons when I come home early from work and wait, watching the light flicker and the shadows it casts on the blank white wall.  The darkness of the unknown is overwhelming, but somehow that little light flickering on the table shines on.  I am surprised to realize how desperately I cling to my candle these days, staring into the glow as my body relaxes and my heartbeat slows.  I breathe to the same line of my meditative prayer I pray with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she responds to the angel’s astonishing announcement that she will soon give birth to the hope of the world: let it be to me according to your word.  I sit.  I wait, even though I haven’t figured out what I’m waiting for.  The wax is almost gone. The candle burns low.  I am still waiting.  When the light burns out, I will buy another alternative soy candle.  I will keep waiting.  It is not yet time to move on.

*****

I found a carving I like of Jonah sitting in the whale, curled up like a child in the womb. I feel like an unborn child these days, being knit together in the darkness, waiting quietly in the secure warmth of the Mother for the birthing pains to come.  Both the pregnant mother and the unborn child learn the same lesson—that waiting, far from the passive negation of responsibility and participation, can be the most active part of our spiritual journeys; it is during the waiting that we are moved, and it is only through the waiting that we can ever arrive at another place. I never really identified with the image of spiritual life as a journey.  I always wanted to Get There Already, too impatient to appreciate the process.  Ironic, then, that the process itself turns out to be the destination, for there is waiting at every stage of life; there is even waiting in death.

*****

Mary and Martha turn up again in the book of John, and this time every character has been waiting.  Mary and Martha waited for a miracle.  Jesus waited for the appointed time.  Lazarus, well, he just waited for death.  When their waiting had come to fruition, once again, old weakness gave birth to new strength.  The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus’ healings, but only Lazarus can claim to be raised from the dead. There is so much death in me waiting for new life.  My old self, the person I used to be way back down the path, is gone for good.  I have laid my pretense at left-brained living to rest in the tomb of my soul.  But my new self, the person I can just glimpse up the way, waving at the next bend, that self is yet to be.  Right now I am still awkward, fearful, silent.  Right now I am still searching for my voice.  I will journey on, but right now I wait and rest.  I am resting in my weakness….

*****

Sometimes we have to let disease and infirmity, the weaknesses of life, take over.  Sometimes we even have to die and enter the tomb—rot there for days.  Sometimes it is only after the rotting has begun, when we can make no mistake about the stench of our failure, that God chooses to arrive, to grieve, to breathe life in that miraculous moment when we are called by name and beckoned back into the story with those thrilling words: “Come out!”  In my waiting I have discovered the gift of choice…. Even death can be a strength—or better, especially death—an opportunity for God to work in us a victory we cannot fathom. And then, the joy of new life, the joy of reunion.  But first are the sickness, the dying, the tomb.  Lazarus waited four days in his death.  Four days of rotting flesh; four days of undeniable failure.   Four days of total weakness as complete as the chaos of the waters before First Light—and then, the Voice of God.

*****

God has been teaching me as I wait in the tomb (or is it the womb?).  I am waiting to be revived (or is it reborn?).  This waiting, the tension between movements, is like the moment in a balancing act when the tightrope walker pauses midway, gathering strength for the rest of the journey.  This moment of rest is the most crucial element of the journey; we wait for that same appointed time…. Without the waiting, we rush on and on until–….

 

God with Us

Advent is my favorite part of the liturgical year.  I love the hymns, the candles, and the general atmosphere of “good cheer.”  But what I love most is the reason-for-the-season: the birth of Jesus.

Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent, and what I was most struck by during the sermon was a discussion of the names of Jesus we are given in scripture.  There are many, but Matthew begins his gospel with the most important two: Jesus the Messiah and Immanuel, which means God with us. These names represent the good news Matthew was writing to share.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).      ~ Matthew 1:23 TNIV

The fundamental basis of Holistic Body Theology is our identity in Christ, who we are as the children of God.  We receive our identity because of two theological truths: imago Dei and the incarnation of Christ.

We are only who we are because of who Christ is. We are only who we are because of what Christ has done for us — not only the death and resurrection of Christ but also the birth and life of Christ.  Because God chose to come to us — physically, humbly, weakly, fleshly –, we have the opportunity to receive the gift of adoption into the family of God.

Advent is the perfect time to remind ourselves of what God has done for us — and to look forward to the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

So this advent season, take the opportunity to dwell on just what it means to anticipate the coming of Christ into the world.  Consider Henri Nouwen’s words in The Genesee Diary:

The expectation of Advent is anchored in the event of God’s incarnation.  The more I come in touch with what happened in the past, the more I come in touch with what is to come.  The Gospel not only reminds me of what took place but also of what will take place.  In the contemplation of Christ’s first coming, I can discover the signs of his second coming.  By looking back in meditation, I can look forward in expectation.  By reflection, I can project; by conserving the memory of Christ’s birth, I can progress to the fulfillment of his kingdom….

I pray that Advent will offer me the opportunity to deepen my memory of God’s great deeds in time and will set me free to look forward with courage to the fulfillment of time by him who came and is still to come.

Happy Advent, lovely readers!  May this season be full of joyful anticipation of connection with the God who created us and called us by name into the gracious, merciful, and loving family of God.

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?

 

10 Concepts of Compassion

If you missed our series on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, you can find quick links to the posts below, or scroll down for a brief recap in 10 Concepts.

The Compassionate God
The Voice of Love
The Compassionate Life (Part 1)
The Compassionate Life (Part 2)
The Compassionate Way (Part 1)
Compassion in Everyday Life
The Compassionate Way (Part 2)
 

10 Concepts of Compassion

1. To be compassionate means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition.

2. We learn compassion by the example of God, who showed us compassion by sending the incarnate Christ to become obedient to the cross on our behalf.

3. We experience God’s compassion through listening to the loving voice of God in our lives.

4. When we listen to the loving voice of God, we discover our unique calling to voluntary displacement.

5. Voluntary displacement — and thus compassionate living — can only happen within the community of God.

6. Voluntary displacement is first an inward shift before it can ever be an authentic shift outwardly.  It is not primarily something to accomplish but something to recognize.

7. We must be disciplined and patient in order to hear the loving voice of God.

8. The first action of compassion is the discipline of patient prayer.

9. The second action of compassion is the participation in the Lord’s Supper.

10. The third action of compassion is the voice of confrontation — both self-confrontation and confrontation of injustice in the world — spoken humbly and gratefully.

The Compassionate Way (Part 2)

It’s our final day with Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Last week in The Compassionate Way (Part 1), we talked about what it looks like to live a life of compassion through voluntary displacement, the individual choice to move ourselves (both inwardly and outwardly) out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.  We established that we cannot act — rightly, timely, compassionately — if we have not first established a lifestyle of prayerful listening to the loving voice of God through the discipline of patience.

More on The Compassionate Way

It is not just the practice of prayer that positions us for compassion.  It is also the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

When we eat bread and drink wine together in memory of Christ, we become intimately related to his own compassionate life. In fact, we become his life and are thus enabled to re-present Christ’s life in our time and place. (111)

[O]ur praying together becomes working together, and the call to break the same bread becomes a call to action. (113)

This is one reason I am in favor of the open table, which allows everyone (even those who may not fit into our neat categories and labels) to participate together in one of the most sacred and intimate sacraments of the Christian faith.  When we pray together — listening for the loving voice of God — and eat together — with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our minds and hearts — we cannot help but be drawn together toward compassionate action as the unified body of Christ.

The authors are adamant that we need both prayer and action to live the Compassionate Way:

Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. (114)

But our actions — like our prayers — must be tempered by the discipline of patience that marks the Compassionate Way. It is only through this patient action that we can truly experience the Compassionate Life we have been called to by our Compassionate God.

Patient actions are actions through which the healing, consoling, comforting, reconciling, and unifying love of God can touch the heart of humanity. (115)

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian….Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and response to it wherever he is revealed….So worship becomes ministry and ministry becomes worship, and all we say or do, ask for or give, becomes a way to the life in which God’s compassion can manifest itself. (119)

It is important to remember, above all, that when we choose voluntary displacement, guided by the loving voice of God, we are merely joining in with what the Spirit of God is already doing in the world.  The Compassionate Life is really an invitation into the fullness of life that we have been promised.  It is the ushering in — as well as the recognition of — the kingdom of God:

Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplished. (121)

At the end of The Compassionate Way, the authors add that a compassionate act may also require confrontation — both of the sin in ourselves as well as the harmful competition and pursuit of power in the world.  Without this confrontational voice, we would not be able to be defenders of God’s justice.  If compassion is the daily act of kindness toward those individuals hurt by competition, then compassion is also the confrontation of systemic injustice in the world:

Compassion without [humble] confrontation fades quickly into fruitless sentimental commiseration. (123)

Confrontation always includes self-confrontation…each attempt to confront evil in the world calls for the realization that there are always two fronts on which the struggle takes place: an outer front and an inner front. (124)

Only when we voluntarily displace ourselves, listen to the voice of love, and follow that unique calling into patient prayer and patient action will we truly experience the freedom offered to us as children of God because of the compassionate obedience of our incarnate God. The Compassionate Way is the way of grateful, free, and even joyful action:

[T]he compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating. (125)

This is the deepest meaning of compassionate action. It is the grateful, free, and joyful expression of the great encounter with the compassionate God. (127)

Conclusion

[Compassion] is hard work; it is crying out with those in pain; it is tending the wounds of the poor and caring for their lives; it is defending the weak and indignantly accusing those who violate their humanity; it is joining with the oppressed in their struggle for justice; it is pleading for help, with all possible means, from any person who has ears to hear and eyes to see. In short, it is a willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. (136)

In the conclusion, the authors restate the message of Compassion as the true mark of the Christian life precisely because compassionate action is larger than any one person or organization. Compassion is the collective activity of the body of Christ in the world to bring healing, justice, wholeness, and completion to the broken world our incarnate Christ died to save. Compassion is living into the kingdom of God:

[W]e can only live the compassionate life to the fullest when we know that it points beyond itself…There is a new heaven and a new earth for which we hope with patient expectation.(131)

How are you ushering in the kingdom of God?

What do you think of Nouwen’s perspective on the Compassionate God, the Compassionate Life, and the Compassionate Way? Is he right?

Listen to the loving voice of God in your life. What is God revealing as your unique calling to the Christian life of compassion?

 

Compassion in Everyday Life

I caught a big work project this week and haven’t had the time I planned to get out the last post in our series on Nouwen’s Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. It’s coming soon, I promise!

In the meantime, my husband has graciously provided below — for your reading pleasure — his unique perspective on what it looks like to live out the Compassionate Way in our daily lives. Enjoy!

Laura has been talking about compassion this week. I’m going to show compassion…by doing her compassion blog for her today.

I work retail. Retail is interesting. By the nature of this job, I run across people of all different flavors. A lot of people are cool – actually most are – but there are also those people who are sarcastic-awesome (in other words, they’re a bit difficult).

I am the type of employee who makes sure every customer who enters my store is welcomed and receives great service. Honestly, I treat my store like my home and I love it when my employees catch onto this and emulate the example I set in their own way.

Anywho, there was an instance at one point in time where I saw a guy looking at men’s casual pants on the wall.

I approached him and said, “Good morning! Are you looking for a certain type of pant or is there anything else I can help you find today?”

He replied angrily, “I don’t need your help, I can read the tags!”

Despite his reply, I still let him know I’d be around if anything came up that I could help with.

There’s a MeWithoutYou song where the lead singer, Aaron Weiss, sings “If your old man did you wrong, maybe his old man did him wrong…” In other words, every reaction is birthed by an action. Chances are that grumpy customer was grumpy because of something that happened before he was in our store and it had nothing to do with me.

And so I preach compassion and understanding.

Maybe that dude was just having a crappy day. Maybe he’d been diagnosed with cancer (as one customer in the last year told me about when they were angry). Maybe he’d just gotten into a car accident. Maybe his cell phone fell into the toilet. Who knows.

But there is one thing I do know: as a Christian, my reaction is called to be grace, understanding, and compassion, demonstrating the love Christ showed to us on the cross… and to let that love do the work.

Whatcha think? Does this resound with you?

 

The Compassionate Life (Part 1)

We’re making our way through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.  Last week, we looked at Part One: The Compassionate God.  If you haven’t read last week’s posts, I highly recommend starting there.  This week, we’re in Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

As a reminder, last week we learned the definition of compassion (emphasis mine):

To be compassionate then means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition. (6)

Part Two: The Compassionate Life

In Part One, we learned that our ability to understand and give compassion is only possible because we have already experienced the compassion of God in our lives and been given the example of compassion in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Now, in Part Two, the authors’ premise is that living a truly compassionate life can only happen through and because of our participation in Christian community:

Compassion is not an individual character trait, a personal attitude, or a special talent, but a way of living together. (47)

A compassionate life is a life in which fellowship with Christ reveals itself in a new fellowship among those who follow him. (48)

Relationship with Christ is relationship with our brothers and sisters. This is most powerfully expressed by Paul when he calls the Christian community the body of Christ. (49)

This is why body theology is so important.  We cannot truly experience the life we are called to experience in God if we are not connected to the community of God.  We do not have a holistic body theology if we do not have both the body of CHRIST and the BODY of Christ — participation in the community of God and the action of service in the world.

The authors are very clear as to why we need the community of God in order to live a compassionate life:

As a community we can transcend our individual limitations and become a concrete realization of the self-emptying way of Christ….Left to ourselves, we might easily begin to idolize our particular form or style of ministry and so turn our service into a personal hobby.  But when we come together regularly to listen to the word of God and the presence of God in our midst, we stay alert to the guiding voice and move away from the comfortable places to unknown territories. (56)

It’s easy to become comfortable.  We are creatures of habit and sameness and whatever-is-easiest, especially those of us living in the First World where materialism and consumer culture define our sense of security and success. But God calls us to a radically counter-cultural paradigm shift that the authors call “voluntary displacement,” the individual choice to move ourselves out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.

When we are willing to make this shift, we are placing ourselves in a position to be compassionate:

Voluntary displacement leads us to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings. (62)

We have the most excellent example of voluntary displacement in the person of Jesus Christ, who made the choice to move out of what was comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God:

The mystery of the incarnation is that God did not remain in the place that we consider proper for God but moved to the condition of a suffering human being…In the life of Jesus, we see how  this divine displacement becomes visible in a human story…It is in following our displaced Lord that the Christian community is formed. (62-3)

This is why body theology begins with the incarnation of God.  Without the choice God made to become human flesh and live among us, we would have no example to follow and no reason to follow that example.  God chose to become like us, to become one of us, to become the same as we are so that we could experience the compassion of God in our individual lives.  In the same way, we are called:

Voluntary displacement leads to compassionate living precisely because it moves us from positions of distinction to positions of sameness, from being in special places to  being everywhere. (64)

When we’re in the position of sameness and everywhere, competition loses its ability to separate us.  When we relate to one another though the compassion of God, we cannot help but live compassionate lives — lives defined by kindness and gentleness to those who get hurt by competition.  We no longer have to struggle and fight to keep what we believe is rightfully ours or worry that sharing power might lead to losing what we have worked so hard to gain.

Because body theology begins with the incarnation, it ends with our own voluntary displacement into the lives of others through service as the BODY of Christ in the world.  God’s choice and our choices bring our theology full circle and enable us to discover and experience the compassionate call of God in our minds, souls, and bodies — both individually and corporately as the community of God:

Living in the world by hiddenness and compassion unites us because it allows us to discover the world in the center of our being…displacement makes it possible to be in the world without being of it. (68)

This is what Richard Niebuhr would call Christ Transforming CultureRather than hiding from the world or fighting against it, we can embrace those around us with compassion and in doing so create space for all of us together to experience the redeeming and transformative power of God.

We’ll continue our journey through Part Two on Wednesday.

The Voice of Love

On Monday, we took a look at what Nouwen has to say about The Compassionate God in Part One of his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life.

Today I had planned to dig into Part Two: The Compassionate Life, but I haven’t been able to get past the end of Monday’s post:

The obedience of Jesus is hearing God’s loving word and responding to it. (34)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God….[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God.  We do not listen for God to speak because we have somehow internalized the lie that God does not love us, does not want our best, does not care infinitely more for us than we could ever hope or imagine. 

We see ourselves in our sinful state, like Jeremiah’s filthy sash, unworthy of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We see God as full of empty promises, all rules and demands and impossible standards.

We think we are not worthy, not able, not enough. We think God is not faithful, not gentle, not loving.

But God has a different message for our ears.  God has a different truth for our hearts.  We are enough, enough for God.  And God is loving, more than we can comprehend.  Our God is the God of chesed and lovingkindness, of agape, of John 3:16.

When we listen — really quieten our hearts and minds, still our bodies — to hear the voice of God, do we expect to hear a voice of love?

Maybe we expect judgment, condemnation, demand, criticism, disappointment, unforgiveness.  But these voices are not the voice of God in our lives.  These are the voices of the world, of culture, of people we know, of our own harsh expectations and guilt and shame, of the lies of the enemy.

When we listen to hear the voice of God and truly hear the still, small voice — that voice, the voice of our gracious and merciful God, is a loving voice.

Jesus shows us by example what it looks like to hear the loving voice of God and respond with obedience.  In the same way, we are enabled by our adoption into the family of God to hear that same voice — the loving voice of God — and are called to respond with the same obedience.

Dear lovely reader, if you hear anything other than love in the voice of God, if you are afraid there is anything other than love in God, know that there is freedom in accepting the truth of who you are and the truth of who God is.

The truth is that you are worthy, capable, and enough because you are a child of God.

The truth is that God is faithful, merciful, and loving.

The truth is that y0u can hear the voice of God — anyone can hear from God.  And that voice is trustworthy and gentle and full of all the chesed and agape you can possibly imagine.

[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

Let us allow ourselves to be included and led so that we can enjoy intimacy with God as we have been designed to do.

Okay, next time we really will look at Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

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