Category Archives: Forward Friday

Forward Friday: The Meaning of the Story of God

Originally posted April 6, 2012

One of the most significant elements in body theology is the actual, physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s why Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday are so pivotal. We Christians are who we are because of who Christ is and what Christ did for us.

Sometimes looking at the big picture of the course of biblical history can help us understand the rhythm of the liturgical year.  Although this year’s Easter celebration is over, let us not be so hasty to rush on to the next big thing.  Let’s take some time to pause and allow the passing of this season to inform the season to come.

As you reflect this weekend on the passing of Holy Week and Easter and the coming of Pentecost, read back over some of the key elements of the story of God from our little flash Bible course to dig into the significance of what we are about to celebrate. Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

What stands out as particularly meaningful to you?

1. God takes evening walks with Adam and Eve in the garden.
2. Becoming aware of their nakedness and feeling ashamed causes them to hide from God.
3. God’s people become afraid of God and ask Moses to speak to God on their behalf.
4. God’s people are afraid even of the glory of God reflected on Moses’ face, so he has to wear a veil until the glory fades.
5. God instructs the people to build the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s presence will be confined among them.
6. The people never touch or open the Ark of the Covenant because it is so holy.
7. The Ark lives in its own tent among them, called the Tabernacle, where the people come to worship God.
8. After Moses, God speaks only to specific people God chooses, usually prophets, kings, or priests. These chosen few share God’s words with the people–who often do not listen.
9. To see the face of God is to die, and even the prophet Elijah–who asks to see God’s face–covers his face with his robe before meeting God at the mouth of the cave.
10. Once God’s people settle down in one place and begin to build houses instead of tents, God instructs King Solomon to build a temple for God to live in.
11. God’s presence is reserved for the Holy of Holies–a small area within the temple restricted from everyone where the Ark is kept, the entrance to which is blocked with a thick curtain.
12. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest goes through an elaborate cleansing ritual in preparation to enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal to atone for the people’s sins. (They even tie a rope around his foot each time in case he dies from the experience of being with God and has to be dragged out to be buried since no one else is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, even to retrieve a dead body.)
13. Then Jesus is born, and he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
14. No longer is God among the people yet blocked from their access. Jesus lives with the people, learns and grows with them, eats and drinks, sleeps, speaks, heals, reprimands, and teaches.
15. Jesus says that those who see him and know him also see and know God.
16. Jesus is anointed at Bethany for his coming death.
17. When the people celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem–what we call Palm Sunday–they acknowledge that Jesus is fulfilling the long-anticipated role of the Messiah, the one who has come to save them and restore the original order as God intended.
18. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as an example of their role in each others’ lives.
19. Jesus breaks bread and passes the cup of wine to his disciples to foreshadow his impending arrest and execution.
20. Jesus prays in the garden with his disciples nearby–by some accounts so fervently that the capillaries break on his forehead and he begins to sweat blood–not only that he might yet be spared his role as the sacrifice for the people’s sins but also that he accepts that role.
21. Jesus is arrested, abandoned and denied by his disciples, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by Rome’s most barbaric form of execution.
22. Jesus is forced to carry the crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem up to the site of his execution.
23. Jesus is too weak to complete the trip and collapses. A member of the crowd is chosen at random by the guards to carry the crossbeam for Jesus the rest of the way.
24. At Golgatha, Jesus is stripped naked (yes, as naked as he was born).
25. The guards attach Jesus to the crossbeam with iron spikes through his wrists and to the stake with spikes through his ankles and raised to hang between two thieves until his struggle for breath overcomes him and he gives up his spirit to God and completes the sacrifice.
26. At the moment of his death, there is an earthquake and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in half from top to bottom.
27. Jesus’ execution lasts only six hours, considerably less time than most people endured the experience.
28. Jesus is buried and mourned, and the disciples hide in fear that they will be arrested and executed next.
29. The women at the tomb discover Jesus’ resurrection early in the morning three days later. They become the first bringers of the good news (gospel) that Jesus is alive.
30. Jesus appears to his disciples and to many other people over the 40 days following his execution, eating and drinking with them and allowing them to touch him to prove that he indeed has retaken physical form.
31. Jesus ascends into the clouds after promising to send his spirit to be with his followers and to return again one day soon to bring the kingdom of heaven.
32. The disciples wait and pray until they experience the promised presence of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost.
33. The disciples become apostles, who preach the good news (gospel) that Jesus came back to life to all who are gathered in the street. Miraculously, each listener hears the words in his or her own language.
34. The apostles perform many other miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, and many who hear believe. Thus the Church is born, and all who believe in the good news that Jesus came back to life are filled with the Holy Spirit…even the Gentiles!
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Forward Friday: Double Belonging

I ran across the term double belonging during my training in spiritual direction in Arizona.  If you’re not familiar (I wasn’t), it’s a relatively new term used to describe people who ascribe to one particular religious tradition (e.g. Christianity) but also learn from another tradition (e.g. Buddhism).

You may have even heard people describe themselves as Jew-Bus (Jewish Buddhists) or Buddha-palians (Episcopalian Buddhists).  What would a Presbyterian Buddhist be called? Buddha-terian?

While I’m not advocating synchronicity, I do believe we have a lot to learn from each other, both within our own tradition and from people of other faiths.  Particularly with people whose spiritual paths involve meditation, there are many similarities between different religious practices.  Thomas Merton, for example, was well known for being influenced by Buddhist meditation techniques as he practiced and taught Christian contemplative meditation.

So let’s try a very simple and open-ended Forward Friday:

This weekend, take some time to explore other faith traditions in your area. 

You could attend a Jewish temple or try a yoga class.  If you’re not sure how to get started, try picking up a book from your local library on comparative religion or a specific tradition you’ve always been curious about.

Remember, this exercise is not designed to encourage you to embrace a new set of beliefs in place of your own or to create opportunities for proselytizing.  Just be curious, courteous, and conscious of what pieces of truth you might pick up along the way.

Happy weekend, lovely readers!  Come back and tell me all about it.

Forward Friday: Seek the Hidden Life

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

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

Seek the hidden life.

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

Here are some ideas:

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

 

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?

Forward Friday: Create your own spiritual practice

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

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

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

All it takes is desire and decision.

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

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

Try it and see what happens.

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

Forward Friday: Practice

Recently, we’ve been talking about becoming listeners and storytellers.  Striking the balance between listening to others’ stories and sharing our own can be difficult.  We all go through seasons where we are better listeners or better storytellers.  The more gently we swing back and forth between listening and sharing, the closer we come to landing in the middle.

This Forward Friday is short and simple.

Practice.

1. Tell the story inside you.  Maybe it’s an embarrassing moment.  Maybe it’s that cute thing your kid said or your cat did.  Maybe it’s a secret that’s been weighing on you.  Whatever it is, make it honest and vulnerable.  Make it an invitation for a friend to join you in the sacred space you create with your words.

2. Listen to your friend’s story.  Listen deeply, without judgment of any kind.  Listen well, reflecting what you hear. Honor your friend’s honesty and vulnerability in return.

3. Notice where God shows up in the stories you share. Share the sacred space together.

As always, the comment box is open.

 

 

Forward Friday: Becoming Listeners

Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims.

I’ve been thinking about this quotation of Nouwen’s all week.  Why is it that silence is what moves us forward?  What is the value of silence to the spiritual life?

The answer hit me yesterday morning when I awoke before my alarm and lay listening to the gentle drops of rain on the window.  It rains so rarely here, and when it does, the rain is more like mist or drizzle.  You have to be really quiet, really still, to hear the rain against the window.

As I lay listening to the rain, I realized something very obvious and un-profound: we must be silent, we pilgrims on our spiritual walks toward God, because it is in the silence that we learn to be listeners.

The spiritual discipline of silence is about more than one individual act of listening.  It’s more than just creating space to hear from God in the moments we are seeking amidst the busy-ness of life.  In silence is where we learn humility, truth, grace, peace, conviction, compassion. Practicing silence is about changing our mode of operation, changing our orientation to the world, to life, to God.  Practicing silence is about cultivating a listening spirit, a listening heart.  It’s about becoming listeners.

Only then, in the silence we have cultivated, will we be able to hear the soft drops of rain glancing against the window, so easy to miss.  Only then, as listeners, will we be able to discern the way forward.  To be silent keeps us pilgrims.

This weekend, take some time to practice being both silent and in silence.  Try this exercise to get started:

  1. Find a quiet spot and a comfortable position. (Stillness is valuable, but you may find a steady activity like walking or swimming helpful as well.)
  2. Plan the amount of time you want to try to be in silence. If you’re new to it, try starting with one-three minutes.  For more experienced travelers, try working up to 15-30 minutes. If helpful, set a timer or alarm so you can relax into the silence without worrying about watching the clock.
  3. Be in silence.  If helpful, light a candle as a focal point or close your eyes.  If you’re walking, fix your eyes on a steady spot on the horizon.
  4. As you are in silence, acknowledge any thoughts, ideas, or feelings that surface.  Gently release them and return to your focal point.
  5. Notice what you hear around you or even perhaps within you, both inward and outward.  This is not a time for analysis or cognitive effort.  Just notice and pay attention to what happens in the silence.
  6. After your silence ends, take some time to reflect on your experience.  What was it like?  Were you distracted? Anxious? Bored? What did you notice during the silence, both about yourself and about what was around you?  Did you sense a message from God?  From your body?  Did you find yourself plagued by some doubt or pain you’ve been avoiding? What did you learn from your experience that might inform your practice of silence next time you try it?

Come back and share your experience in the comment box below.  Let’s talk together about what it’s like to learn to become listeners.

Forward Friday: Blooming Tea

In honor of the new year, I thought I’d try my hand at creating a little video to help provide a springboard for meditation as the old year passes away and we embrace what is to come in 2013.

Before you play the video…

  1. Find a quite spot and a comfortable position.
  2. Take a moment to clear your mind of any distracting thoughts.
  3. Tip: consider allowing the video to load fully before playing.

Play the video…

Respond to the video…

What did you think?  Would you like to see more videos like this in the future? What would you add or change? Leave a comment in the box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or by email.

Forward Friday: Listen to the Voice of Love

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.

We’ve been going through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life for the last couple of weeks.  If you’re feeling moved by Henri Nouwen’s message of choosing voluntary displacement but are unsure how to start listening to the divine voice of love, I encourage you to check out Tim Hoekstra’s wonderful devotional Miles to Run Before We Sleep.  All proceeds from book sales are donated to World Vision‘s clean water project in Africa, so you can’t go wrong.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my husband and I know Tim (he married us in April 2011), and he is an unbelievably gentle and driven man of God with a passion for both running and racial reconciliation in the Church.  His devotional provides readers the opportunity to think, pray, move, and discover the unique calling on each of our lives toward what Nouwen calls voluntary displacement. 

Both of us are reading through the book ourselves and have already had some very unexpected insights.  I may share some of my meditations here in the future, but for now, I highly recommend Tim’s book to anyone looking for guidance in recognizing the displacement in our lives.

If a devotional isn’t your thing, you may also find one of these books helpful in learning to listen to the loving voice of God:

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Sacred Compass by Brent Bill

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr

If you need more suggestions, drop me a line! I’d love to chat more with each of you.

Forward Friday: Prayer for the Rhythm of God

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and time (and blog writing) got away from me. I’ve missed you lovely readers.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a few moments of stillness in the midst of all the busy-ness this weekend.

Take some time each morning this weekend to still yourself and enter into the rhythm of God.  Notice how the prayer exercise below affects your body and your mind. How does it change the way you interact with the rest of your day?

Extra credit: Try this exercise each morning for the next week.

The following prayer exercise is from Body Prayer: The Posture of Intimacy with God by Doub Pagitt and Kathryn Prill (emphasis mine):

…[T]here is a rhythm of God — a rhythm that encompasses life, both the life we can readily see and the unseen life of the spirit.  The rhythm of God beckons us, guides us, and dwells in us.  When we discover the rhythm of God, we find the heart of God, the dreams of God, the will of God.  As those who are created in the image of God, we are endowed with this rhythm.  We can find it, step into it, and live in it. This is the kingdom of God — to live in sync with the rhythm of God….

[Pray this prayer aloud.]

The Lord our G0d
Sets our feet in spacious places,
Delivers us from evil,
Has given us freedom with the opening of his hand.
Let us lean into the future before us,
Let us follow the Way.

Prayer Posture

Begin by standing with your feet together and your arms hanging at your sides.  With either your left or right foot, lunge forward far enough to feel the stretch in your thigh.  If you can, lower the thigh of the leg in front to create a ninety-degree angle in the bend of your knee.  Switch legs after a while if you need to.  Feel the rhythm of God in your muscles as they strain, in your legs as you switch positions, in your breathing, and in the breathing and sounds of those around you [if you choose to try this prayer exercise in a group setting].  As you let the rhythm created in the room around you expand in your mind, consider how the rhythm of God is all around us.

Next week we will do some theological and spiritual reflection on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison. Until then, lovely readers, may the peace of God be on you all.

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