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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with Eric)

fivequestionsonExercise

with Eric Hall

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise. If it has changed over time, describe the change.

I started exercising when I was a sophomore in high school.  I think I mainly started to become more attractive to women and to feel better about my physical appearance.  My exercise habits have changed over time depending on how busy I have been.  In 2007 I exercised for around 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.  In 2009 I ran 7 days a week.  I still exercise but it usually last around 1 hour each time and it happens around 3 times a week.

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

It has helped my self-confidence when it comes to my looks.  I have had compliments about my muscles.  That always makes me feel good.  Right now I am still in pretty good shape but I am very aware of unwanted fat on my body.  At times that fat makes me feel less secure about my appearance (I know this is unhealthy).

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

It has given me conversations with others that exercise.  I know to some girls it has made me more attractive.  At least from their comments that is what it sounded like.  It has also taken me away from spending more time with people (I will talk about this more in questions 4).

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

At times my exercising habits have become an obsession.  I refused to spend time with others because I HAD to get my exercise routine done.  I, one time, made my family wait an hour after they had driven 6 hours to come see me because I HAD to exercise.  This was extremely unloving and very selfish.  This was a sin, so obsession with exercise negativity affected my spiritual life.  But…I do believe that as a follower of Christ I am to be a holistic person.  This means I should try and be as healthy as I can be spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I do believe it honors the gift that God gave us, our bodies, when we exercise.  But as I mentioned, exercise can sometimes become an obsession, which is unhealthy and sinful.

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

Exercise, but within reason.  Don’t let it become an obsession.  I do believe that it can be a way to honor God, which is great.  I also do not believe that it is wrong to also do it to make yourself more attractive to yourself and others.
 
Ocean Me 

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.

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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Church (with Chris)

fivequestionsonChurch

with Chris Nelson

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with church or other Christian communities.  If it has changed over time, describe the change.

As a kid I would go to church on Easter and Christmas with my Grandpa. It was definitely his community and it was a place we were invited into on those days. In high-school I had some friends that attended church and then it became a place where you could just hang out, on weekdays, not just holidays. After becoming involved in that church Sunday mornings became a time to grow in relationship with the whole congregation, young and old and share that experience of church with each other.
 
Now that we have settled into our church here in Colorado Springs, I see it very much as “the body of Christ” in the way that we all need to bring our gifts and skills to serve and provide a different function of the body. I think this approach has been amplified recently as several families, even families that had been at the church for 20+ years left because the church refused to leave the denomination over the issue of homosexual ordination.
 

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

Honestly not much. I theoretically understand the connection between how we understand the two and I can explain it as such to people but in general the movement goes the other way. How I understand my body and my self image affects the relationship/experience of church. In general I try to take care of my body but don’t always do the best job. In order to combat that I try to develop habits that allow that to happen. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not.
 

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

It helps me to deal with people that do not think like me or do not have the same skills that I do. Instead of simply writing them off as having nothing to add because they are not “on my team”. I try instead to see how their unique functions might be a part of the body of Christ.
 
Again, all this is theoretically informing how I act and I am by no means saying that I always accomplish this way of thinking.
 

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

Primarily in understanding that my spiritual life is inextricably tied to the spiritual life of those around me. I can’t go it alone and need others to grow with and also be held accountable by. If I try to go it on my own, then it is all about me and I don’t think that is the ultimate goal of spiritual formation.
 
Slightly relatedly I also establish patterns of taking care of my body (jogging, eating right..) and try to apply those to my spiritual life (serving, attending worship, reading the bible, praying). Like exercise it is much easier to do with other people around you though there are times when going alone is nice too.
 

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

Everything is connected. As much as we like to be lone rangers, and as much as our culture shapes us into believing that is the ultimate goal, it goes against the way we are made.
 
Just like your body is messy, so is community, it is not always going to be smooth sailing but if my hearing starts to give me problems the solution is not to cut off my ears, it is to find hearing aids, to support the function that is faltering.
 

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.

Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Exercise (with George)

fivequestionsonExercise

with George Ratchford

1) Describe your relationship to/experience with exercise. If it has changed over time, describe the change.

I have never been one to exercise for the sake of exercise. I need a goal or a purpose. In the past I have stayed in shape so that I can play sports and be strong for surfing. It’s also for the purpose of feeling better, sleeping better, and self-confidence. Recently, I trained for my first ever half-marathon. The great purpose was to raise money for clean water wells in Africa through Team World Vision. I trained with a team of 30 people from two churches. It was communal, it had a greater purpose and allowed me to push myself to new limits.

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

It makes a lot of difference. I feel sharper mentally and spiritually. I feel like I look better and have a better “bounce” to my step. It just feels good.

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

Since it is mostly about sports and surfing it has all been connected to the relational side of things. The recent Team World Vision experience was phenomenal as it connected the team on a deeply spiritual level.

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

Brings me discipline. Gets me outside. Allows me to connect with others. These are not always the most powerfully spiritual moments, yet they have a way of drawing my attention to God more often. So I would say that it affects it in a subtle yet profound way. It is a discipline that keeps me filled with joy and Christ said he came to bring us a fullness to life (John 10:10).

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

Allow exercise to fit into the Great Commandment. Make sure the discipline is a part of loving God with your entire self. Also, to use it as a way of self care and loving one’s self more deeply (confidence). Lastly, make sure exercise is communal in some aspects so it allows you to connect with your neighbor.
 
IMG_2982
 

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.

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!

And then, after Holy Week…

Originally posted April 5, 2012

Last week, we looked at the big picture of the history of God’s relationship to people up to the Day of Atonement.  Then, we looked at the entrance of Jesus into the story. On Good Friday, we considered the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Now that we’ve celebrated Easter Sunday, let’s look at the coming of the Holy Spirit and the implications of this story for body theology.

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!

When I was little, we used the phrase Holy Ghost.  Some people might have found that phrase a little scary.  To me, it was just a name, as incorporeal and intangible as today’s more common Holy Spirit.  Growing up Presbyterian, there was never much emphasis on the Holy Spirit at all.  We talked a lot about God as The Father and Jesus as The Son, but God as The Holy Ghost was just something we said as part of the Nicene Creed each week in the church service.

I’ve come a long way in my journey with the Holy Spirit.  That’s a post for another day.  What I want to share today is the continued trajectory of the story of God.

Last week, we looked at the beginning of the story of God when God was present with Adam and Eve, walking in the garden.  Through the entrance of sin and shame, a barrier went up that kept the people of God from God’s presence with them.  As we walk through the story of God, we see God living nearby, but there is always something keeping the people from direct contact with God–whether that’s shame, fear, or the belief that they are too unclean or unholy.

But God was determined to be with the people again.  On Wednesday and Friday, we looked at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus–God in human form.  God broke the barrier by making the ultimate blood sacrifice so the people would never again be too unclean or unholy to be present with God.  But Jesus’ physical existence on earth–like ours–was only temporary, even after death.

So God sent the Holy Spirit–the presence of God–to remain in the world with the people of God and to actually live within the people, making their physical bodies into temples.  Now, people don’t have to go anywhere to be present with God.  No one can keep us away from God or force us to stay at a distance from God’s presence because God is now present inside the human body!

If that’s not the most exciting thing ever, I don’t know what is! Our bodies house the presence of God.  God’s presence inside us is what changes us, makes us new, and makes us holy.  There is nowhere we can go where God is not present.  There is nowhere we can go that is not made holy by God’s presence there.  The curtain has been ripped open.  The Spirit of God has been released into the world and into the body of every person who believes.

That is what body theology is all about.  That is why our bodies matter to our faith.  That is why the physical reality of God in the world matters to our theology.

And that is what Holistic Body Theology Blog is all about.

 

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?

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.

 

The Spiritual Practice of Flossing

I was never a fan of flossing growing up. Although I had the good fortune to have nearly perfect teeth (thanks, mom and dad), my gums have always been on the sensitive side, so flossing is an unpleasant task. When we moved to Santa Barbara, I switched dentists and have been enduring regular lectures at my cleanings about improving my flossing habits ever since.

Here’s what I’ve learned about flossing over the past year:

  1. It’s not just for after you eat popcorn or celery.
  2. It hurts, and it will make you bleed.
  3. If you don’t keep doing it, it keeps hurting.
  4. Not flossing can result in cavities in the impossible-to-reach-with-a-toothbrush places between your teeth, no matter how good you are about brushing.
  5. No matter how good your teeth are, if your gums are unhealthy, your teeth will eventually loosen and fall out.
  6. You have to floss regularly or you lose most of the benefits of doing it at all.
  7. You have to get way down into the crevices or it’s not really worth doing.
  8. Be gentle but also vigorous.
  9. Use antiseptic mouthwash after to kill off the newly-exposed bacteria.

I just went to the dentist last week and got the lecture all over again. True, I’ve flossed more in the last year than I had in my whole life. I’ve made progress, but I still have room for improvement. I can be more diligent, more vigorous, more intentional. I can pay more attention to the task at hand and properly prepare my gums for that final tingly rinse.

And I got to thinking, as I dutifully wound thread through my teeth every night this week, that God sure has a sense of humor.

Ever since I first heard of body theology back in seminary, I have been learning to be more attentive to the connection between mind, body, and spirit that makes up who we are as human beings, made in the image of God. But that first day, when my world opened up to a more holistic way of being and relating, I never would have imagined that several years later I’d be blogging about the spiritual lessons in ordinary bodily experiences like bathing, eating, sleeping, sneezing, menstruating, hiking, farting, or flossing.

God is having a little fun with me.  Well, two can play at that game. So here we go.

What’s spiritual about flossing? It’s a lot like confession.

In confession, whether we reveal ourselves to another trusted person or only to the God who knows all and loves us anyway, we learn to do the routine work of clearing away the debris from our hearts and minds.  But if we want to stay healthy and experience God’s healing in the deepest places, we’ve got to do more than brush the easy-to-reach surfaces.  We’ve got to do some flossing.

We’ve got to get way down into those crevices where our sin, shame, guilt and baggage like to set up residence.  Even if the big, outward parts of ourselves are pretty healthy, letting that stuff fester will eat away at our roots until the healthy stuff loosens and starts to fall away. We’ve got to be diligent and consistent, even though it hurts and there may be blood in the sink for a while. But then, once we’ve gotten way down deep and exposed that debilitating bacteria, we find we’ve made room in those crevices for the healing power of God, that tingly rinse we call the Holy Spirit.

Our gums won’t heal overnight. Some of the damage might already have life-long consequences or require intervention from a professional. But if we keep at it, night after night, we will find ourselves slowly being restored to full health, maybe a health we didn’t even know was possible.

God is big like that.

God does the work of healing and transformation in our lives. Without salvation, grace, and the powerful, active work of the Holy Spirit, we would all be toothless. But when we join in and take an active role in our healing, we find we are on the road to being fully restored as the mind-body-spirit beings we were created to be — the good and unique handiwork of God.

What healing and restoration is God calling you to in your own life? Think about that next time you floss.

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.

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–….

 

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