Well, lovely readers, I am back in California and getting back into regular life after my second and final session of training in spiritual direction.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the last three weeks of guest posts as much as I have! We will continue to have Five Questions on… every Friday for as long as we still have willing participants. Everyone is welcome, so please feel free to share your responses and add your voice to the conversation.
I had some grand ideas for launching back into regular posting here at HBTB, but I’m afraid I’ve suffered from technical difficulties (three laptops in three weeks!). For today, let’s enjoy this little snippet from the ever-wise Rainer Maria Rilke on the connection of the spiritual and the physical through experiencing our sexuality.
In the Fourth Letter of Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke writes:
We can recall that all beauty in animals and plants is a silent and enduring form of love and longing. We can see the animal just as we perceive the plant, patiently and willingly uniting, multiplying, and growing, not from physical desire, not from physical grief, rather from adapting to what has to be. That existing order transcends desire and grief and is mightier than will and resistance. The earth is full of this secret down to her smallest things. Oh, that we would only receive this secret more humbly, bear it more earnestly, endure it, and feel how awesomely difficult it is, rather than to take it lightly.
Oh, that we might hold in reverence our fertility, which is but one, even if it seems to be either spiritual or physical. Spiritual creativity originates from the physical. They are of the same essence — only spiritual creativity is a gentler, more blissful, and more enduring repetition of physical desire and satisfaction. The desire to be a creator, to give birth, to guide the growth process is nothing without its constant materialization in the world, nothing without the thousandfold consent of things and animals. Its enjoyment is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is filled with inherited memories of millions of instances of procreation and births. In one thought of procreation a thousand forgotten nights of love are resurrected and that thought is fulfilled in grandeur and sublimity…
Perhaps the sexes are more closely related than one would think. Perhaps the great renewal of the world will consist of this, that man and woman, freed of all confused feelings and desires, shall no longer seek each other as opposites, but simply as members of a family and neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to simply, earnestly, patiently, and jointly bear the heavy responsibility of sexuality that has been entrusted to them.
Thoughts? Questions? Reactions? Share in the comment box below.
My August “pause and quietly think about” turned out to be more of a “work like crazy for three weeks and then go on a road trip.” I didn’t get as much time for silence and reflection as I had planned, but what I did get was a whole seven total days without one single moment of work.
My husband and I drove almost 3,000 miles on our road trip through central California, northern California and Oregon, went on one backpacking trip (one night), enjoyed seven different hikes (eight if you count walking along the smoky rim of Crater Lake), stayed in four different hotels, and visited with two sets of Oregonian friends — transplants from Chicago.
My brain got a glorious break from all the rushing and working and pushing and preparing I squeezed into three weeks before our trip.
But my body — oh my!
Here’s the thing I like about body theology. Since I first heard the term, sitting in that little third-floor classroom at Fuller Seminary about midway through my program, my world has opened up. I have been pushed and stretched and challenged to think about my body, my SELF, as part of my theology, as a full participant in the spiritual encounter of God in my life.
The thing I like about body theology is that it keeps me grounded. It reminds me that the ordinary, the physical, the tangible, the real, the messy, the mundane, the accessible — this is all part of how we were created to experience the fullness of life and completion of joy that we have been promised.
Theology seems like a heady, ethereal, intellectual, intangible mist that we grasp for but can never really, fully reach. Theology is such an distant, academic word.
But body theology brings all that misty intangibility into focus, gives it form, makes it grasp-able in the most literal sense. Body theology is something we can hold onto.
As Matt and I hiked up and down mountains, slept in tents, wandered behind waterfalls, slogged through flooded meadows, drove miles and miles and miles (and even through a tree!), I wasn’t having intellectual epiphanies about my spiritual life or about God.
I was using my muscles.
I was pushing myself uphill till I nearly had an asthma attack.
I was lugging a too-large, half-empty backpack I borrowed.
I was squirming in the passenger seat.
I was being lulled to sleep by the motion of the car as the miles peeled away under our speeding bodies.
I was alternately pushing sleeping-Matt and getting pushed by sleeping-Matt out of the too-small beds in our cheap motels.
I was racing the sundown to the top of a mountain.
I was stretching my sore legs and eating breakfast for lunch and snapping an unmanageable amount of digital photos and listening to a good book being read badly on audio CD and enjoying being on vacation with my husband and hanging out with his Chicago-to-Oregon friends and blowing my dripping nose on wads of toilet paper as we hiked under tall pines and complaining that my back was killing me and massaging my husband’s neck as we drove and a thousand other mundane, ordinary, regular, unexceptional, physical things that mean that I’m ALIVE and DOING something outside in the world with other people.
It’s easy to live in my head because I work from home and have very limited community in a town we are still adjusting to living in after just over a year of settling in. It’s easy to live in my head because I’m an introvert and a writer and prefer digital communication over picking up a phone.
Mostly it’s easy to live in my head because there is still a part of me that believes that in my head is where I will meet God, where I will mentally understand and logically decide and cognitively interact with the intangible-spirit-being that I grew up loving and seeking and learning to find with my mind. Faith seeking understanding.
That part of me is still pretty big and loud and commanding of much of my time and energy. But the part of me that is small and quiet and unassuming, the part of me that gives instead of takes, the part of me that is learning to rest and be instead of work and do, that part of me — the part that woke up the day I first heard about body theology in that little third-floor classroom — that part of me found its voice this past week in the mundane and ordinary, in the exercise and outdoors and movement from place to place.
That voice isn’t as loud or commanding as the voice of my head. But oh, how it sings!
Experienced mountaineers have a quiet, regular, short step — on the level it looks petty; but then this step they keep up, on and on as they ascend, whilst the inexperienced townsman hurries along, and soon has to stop, dead beat with the climb….Such an expert mountaineer, when the thick mists come, halts and camps out under some slight cover brought with him, quietly smoking his pipe, and moving on only when the mist has cleared away….You want to grow in virtue, to serve God, to love Christ? Well, you will grow in and attain to these things if you will make them a slow and sure, an utterly real, a mountain stepplod and ascent, willing to have to camp for weeks or months in spiritual desolation, darkness and emptiness at different stages in your march and growth. All demand for constant light, for ever the best — the best to your own feeling, all attempt at eliminating or minimizing the cross and trial, is so much soft folly and puerile trifling. — Baron Friedrich von Hugel (as quoted in Run with the Horses, Eugene Peterson, p. 109-10)
My husband and I just spent the day in Kings Canyon National Park. Because of my back pain and fatigue issues, this was our first real outside adventure since we moved to Santa Barbara (unless you count snowboarding near Las Vegas in January, during which I stood up a grand total of three times on the bunny slope and quit after the first hour). We want to go backpacking in August, so I need to start getting back into shape after spending the last few months mostly in, on, or near the bed.
All day today, I couldn’t get this quotation (above) out of my head. I am learning to use the “quiet, regular, short step” of the experienced mountaineer.
My husband is constantly reminding me to slow down, pace myself, and enjoy the surroundings, but my destination-oriented brain is solely focused on getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. I want to be finished, to go back to the car feeling successful. I want to hurryupandgetthere!
I’m the same way in my spiritual life. I want the “fun stuff” of God’s revelation without putting in the time being quiet, being regular, and being well-paced.
But I’m easily distracted, rushed, irregular. I fill up my days with television and music and talking and all the loudness of life. And when I do set aside time to be still and quiet and experience the presence of God — I want to hurryupandgetthere, too!
But today, in Kings Canyon, we didn’t really have much of a destination at all. The park itself was our destination, and so I was able to enjoy being at the place we wanted to get to, wandering among the meandering paths — paved and unpaved.
For the first time, I was aware of more than just my feet plodding, rushing to the next shaded spot, the crux of the next hill. I was aware of more than just my labored breathing, my annoying allergies, my sciatic nerve.
For the first time, I was able to really look at the mountains and the trees, enjoy the grassy meadows and rivers, feel the mist on my face from the waterfall, notice the smell of pine and cedar on the breeze, look back at my husband and smile.
– Isn’t this great?
For the first time, I was able to appreciate the journey, pace myself appropriately, and experience the healing and renewal that come with just being outside among the sun and shade and surprising beauty.
There’s something about being outdoors that opens us up to natural revelation, to the friendly camaraderie of strangers enjoying a common activity, and to the slow and steady pace and rhythm of a lifelong pursuit of Jesus.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.
“Went to seminary” sounds so nonchalant, so casual and normal, as though I had said nothing more significant than “then I went to the store.” Let me rephrase.
Then I was uprooted from the comfort and safety of my quiet little life in conservative Greenville, South Carolina with its gentle, rolling Appalachian foothills and temperate climate and dragged across the country to entertainment-saturated, liberal southern California with its rough, jagged Rocky peaks and dry, dramatic desert climate.
During a prayer session once, a young man I had just met that evening gave me a prophetic word that he saw me as a beautiful flowering plant that had been uprooted from my pot. He said the pain I was feeling was from being in transition but that I could rest assured that God was holding onto me and that I would be planted again soon, outside in the garden.
At the time, I kinda thought he was crazy. I didn’t put much stock in prophetic words, especially from people I’d just met, and how did he know I was in pain, anyway? I hadn’t said anything about it.
But I went home and cried.
He was right. I had been uprooted, not only from the pot of my life in South Carolina but also from my black-and-white Presbyterian perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my pot was holding me back. I couldn’t keep growing in that environment anymore. I had outgrown the pot and needed more room for my roots to go down deeper and my leaves to spread out more fully.
Invited into the conversation
So I was in seminary, hovering between the security of my pot and the great unknown of the garden. My roots were dangling in the air, exposed for all to see and desperate for water. It was in that space, the space between the pot and the garden, that I was invited back into the conversation.
In seminary, I was surrounded by people of faith–both conservative and liberal–all wrestling with scripture, examining their roots, being exposed to new points of view, and rubbing against each other in friendly, earnest debate. We were all working out who we were and what we believed. We were all trying on new ideas and perspectives. We were all talking and listening and thinking and arguing. We were all part of the conversation.
I spent a lot of my time in seminary with other Presbyterians, only a lot of them weren’t black-and-white at all. And I spent a lot of time with people whose roots were in many other denominations and expressions of Christian faith. And they weren’t very black-and-white, either. The best conversations I had in seminary were with other students whose roots were dangling in space just like mine. We were all in transition.
We were all on our way out to the garden.
To be concluded tomorrow…