Category Archives: Spirituality

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.

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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!

 

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!

Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Cultures (with Kristi)

fivequestionsonCultures

with Kristi Rice

1) Describe your experience in other cultures and the attitude toward/relationship to body image you observed there.

Bob and I live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is a region plagued by extreme poverty, but where the people are resilient, loving, and often hopeful in the midst of their daily struggles. Disease, hunger, and even malnutrition are common.  There seems to be a pretty clear distinction that people who are larger (weigh more), tend to be those who are more well-off economically. Among the population in general, people admire and envy people whose bodies are larger – because usually they perceive that those people don’t have to walk everywhere or are able to eat meat or rich foods more often. People generally prefer to have a little ‘cushion’ on their bodies, perhaps so that they have some ‘reserve’ in case they get a sickness that causes them to lose weight.
 
During our first year in Congo, we spent one month in a rural area to focus on language learning. We did a lot of walking in hot weather during that month and by necessity ate a lean diet. We had no intention of losing weight, and did not even realize that we had until our Congolese friends expressed concern and dismay upon our return to the city. “You’ve lost so much weight!”, some would say, “That trip was too hard on you.” They wanted to feed us well so that we would return to our former ‘healthy’ weight.
 
Congolese tend to be conservative in how they dress. Women (married women, especially) have at least two layers in their skirts, and wearing shorts would be considered nearly obscene. Yet, sometimes they also seem to have an open-ness and acceptance about their bodies that surpasses ours. Sometimes when we visit someone who has had surgery, they are eager to show us the wound, even if it might be in a less “appropriate” spot. Congolese are also not inhibited to comment on someone else’s body – “I wish I could be fat like you,” is one phrase that we have heard said. We have tried to observe and learn so that we can respect their culture well and live within it.
 

2) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?

I find that in one sense I am more conscious of my body because of the frequent comments from friends or strangers about my body. If I have been away for more than a week, people who I greet on the street are likely to make an assessment like, “You’ve gained weight! Must have been a good trip.” Or “Did you get sick? You’ve lost weight.” Often, we will hear both paradoxical perspectives in the same day, so we’ve learned to laugh and not take it seriously. Yet, the Congolese perspective has made me less self-conscious about my body size also. I have learned to appreciate being healthy more than having certain image. As white people living in an African country, we are often stared at, scrutinized, and touched simply because of the novelty of seeing a foreigner up close. So – it really helps to be comfortable with who you are!
 

3) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you relate to others?

I feel a greater sense of freedom in relating to others. Joining the Congolese in their culture of being frank and open about our bodies seems to help me be more “real” in other aspects of the relationship. Last year I shared with Therese, a Congolese friend, about my embarrassment and annoyance when people on the road would make comments (sometimes shouting comments) about my body as I was jogging. Therese laughed, shared her own even more humiliating experience, and told me I should not let it bother me. Those shared experiences are so encouraging and helpful!
 

4) How has that relationship/attitude affected your spiritual life?

Living in Congo, where we are daily confronted with people who are hungry, sick, or desperately poor, has prompted me to be grateful for the simple, basic things in life, like being able to choose the food I eat or walk up the stairs. I am grateful that God made me the way he did…in my case, it is much more valuable for life in Congo that I don’t have food allergies than that my body were thin or beautiful. The nudge to be grateful as well as the openness about body image in Congo has enriched my sense of who I am as a creation and daughter of God. In spite all of my faults, sin, and stumbling, I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.
 

5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?

Reiterating what I have learned to appreciate about Congolese culture, take a risk with being open and honest –with yourself, with others, and with God. And be grateful … for whatever your body looks like and the way God created you to interact with the world.
 
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What about you?

Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  You can also post anonymously if you wish.

The Spiritual Practice of Cooking

I’m not a cook.  I don’t make food; I just heat it up. Or order it. I’m really good at ordering.  My husband, on the other hand, is a very talented cook.  He enjoys creating something delicious and wonderful out of a whole bunch of unassuming ingredients.

So what can we learn from cooking about the spiritual life?

Cooks are patient. They don’t rush through the process but take their time to make sure everything comes out as it should.

Cooks are creative. They look at seemingly incompatible ingredients and see delicious possibilities.

Cooks are collaborative.  Ever watch the Food Network, or do a web search for a certain recipe or cooking method, or walk down the cooking isle in a bookstore?  Cooks love to share and learn and *ahem* brag.

Cooks practice self-care.  My mother always used to say while cooking, “Don’t muzzle the ox!” That was her blanket permission to eat whatever you want while you’re cooking in the name of taste-testing.

Cooks are diligent.  They do what they do over and over and over again.  They do it day after day, meal after meal.  They are dedicated to their craft.

Cooks are intuitive. They test out new recipes, experiment with new ingredients, and use measurement systems like “dash” and “pinch.”

Cooks are brave. They share what they create, usually quite proudly.  They enter contests, go on competitive reality TV shows, apply to work in restaurants, produce blogs or books or movies that chronicle their craft.

Cooks are caring.  They provide daily sustenance for those they love the most, for themselves, and for the hungry around them.  They bring cookies and cupcakes to the school bake sale. They serve in soup kitchens.  They share their casseroles and pot roasts and pies at pot lucks.

If you’ve ever wanted to be patient or creative or collaborative or practicing self care or diligent or intuitive or brave or caring — well then, you should take your cue from cooks and practice spiritual cooking.

The Spiritual Practice of Smoking*

* HBTB does not promote or condone smoking. It is general knowledge that breathing nicotine into your lungs is toxic to your body.  This post is designed to focus on what smokers can teach us about the spiritual life.

The Spiritual Practice of Smoking (while not really smoking)

  1. Smokers listen to their bodies well.
  2. Smokers know the importance of taking regular breaks from the daily grind.
  3. Smokers appreciate the calming effect of deep breathing, in and out, in and out.
  4. Smokers understand the camaraderie of taking breaks with other smokers, sharing the experience of smoking together.
  5. Smokers enjoy getting away from it all, going outside, and having a moment apart just to tend to their body’s needs.

Next time you find yourself rushing through yet another busy day with your head spinning and time flying by, take your cue from smokers:

  • take a moment to step outside

  • breathe deeply

  • experience the community of shared interest and activity

  • tend to your body, your mind, and your spirit every day

Flora Slosson Wuellner on being in community

Wuelllner_community

Joan Chittister on being in community

Chittister_community

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